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Tesla Reveals Crashed Vehicle Was on Autopilot Before Fatal Accident

Tesla assured it continues to do its best to investigate the matter and establish facts about the incident

Moments before a Tesla Model X crashed on Mar. 23 on U.S. 101 near Mountain View, California, "autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum," Tesla revealed in a statement Friday.

The driver received “several visual and audible” hands-on warnings earlier in the drive but his hands were not detected on the wheel six seconds before the collision, according to the company.

“The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken,” read the statement.

The driver of the Tesla was identified by the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office as Wei Huang, 38, was taken to Stanford University Medical Center where he succumbed to his injuries.

"He has a wife and two kids, two very young kids he leaves behind," the victim’s friend, Shawn Price, said. "He was the best."

Tesla assured it continues to do its best to investigate the matter and establish facts about the incident. They also sent their condolences to the victim's family.

"Our hearts are with the family and friends who have been affected by this tragedy," they said. "We care deeply for and feel indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. We are incredibly sorry for their loss."

Along with sending their thoughts to the family, they wrote about how safe having one of their vehicles on autopilot is. They claim that the U.S. government found that this feature reduces crash rates by as much as 40 percent.

"In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers," Tesla said in a statement, "For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

They claim that though Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents, it makes them much less likely to occur.

However, Stanford professor Sven Bieker, an expert on automated cars, says the technology in autopiloted vehicles is not advanced enough for cars to be totally self-driving.

"Which really means these are not self-driving vehicles and the driver is the driver, not a passenger yet," Bieker said.

As for Huang's family, they hope an incident like this never happens again.

"I just really hope that whatever investigation occurs that this is prevented in the future," Price said. "I don't want to see other Walters, other people, families, communities other friends ripped apart. He didn't have to go this way."

The company said in an earlier statement that it didn’t know what caused the Model X to crash, and it was also unsure if the SUV was operating on its semi-autonomous "Autopilot" system. Tesla said it was working with authorities to recover logs from the damaged SUV's computer.

A missing or damaged safety shield on the end of a California freeway barrier worsened the impact of a crash involving a Tesla SUV that killed a man last week, the electric car maker said on its website.

The SUV was traveling at "freeway speed" when it hit the barrier near Mountain View. The California Highway Patrol says the SUV caught fire for unknown reasons. The 38-year-old driver was pulled from the vehicle by rescuers and later died at a hospital.

On Tuesday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it had dispatched a two-person team to investigate the crash and fire.

Tesla's semi-autonomous system is designed to keep a vehicle centered in its lane at a set distance from cars in front of it and also can change lanes and brake automatically.

Photographs taken of the SUV show the front of the vehicle was obliterated. Its hood was ripped off and its front wheels were strewn on the freeway. Two other cars were involved in the crash, but their drivers were not reported injured, the CHP said.

Tesla said it in the statement late Tuesday that it was "deeply saddened" by the crash, which it said was made more severe because a crash attenuator, which protects vehicles from hitting the end of concrete lane divider, had either been removed or damaged in a prior accident and was not replaced. "We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash," the company wrote.

Tesla also said its owners have driven the same stretch of road with Autopilot on about 85,000 times since 2015, and to its knowledge, there has never been a crash. Tesla says its data shows that a gasoline-powered car in the U.S. is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla.

News of the crash investigation helped to send Tesla stock tumbling more than 8 percent on Tuesday. Late Tuesday, Moody's downgraded the company's credit rating and gave it a negative outlook. Shares continued to decline Wednesday, slipping nearly 4 percent after the market opened to $268.61. The shares have declined about 14 percent since the start of the year on fears of production delays with the mass-market Model 3 electric car.

The NTSB investigation is the second opened by the agency this year involving a Tesla vehicle.

In January, the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dispatched teams to Culver City, near Los Angeles, to investigate the crash of a Model S electric car that may have been operating under the Autopilot system.

That crash remains under investigation.

The investigations come as Congress and federal agencies grapple with how to regulate autonomous vehicles and those with systems that are partially self-driving.

Tesla has taken steps to prevent drivers from using Autopilot improperly, including measuring the amount of torque applied to the steering wheel and sending visual and audio warnings.

If the warnings are ignored, drivers would be prevented from using Autopilot, the company said.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for Huang's family.

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