Tesla crash driver may have used autopilot, officials say

The deceased driver had previously posted videos of himself driving without placing his hands on the steering or feet on the pedal

FILE - This July 8, 2018 photo shows a Tesla 2018 Model 3 sedans sitting on display outside a Tesla showroom in Littleton, Colo. The driver of a Tesla Model 3 involved in a fatal crash that California highway authorities said may have been on operating on Autopilot posted social media videos of himself riding in the vehicle without his hands on the wheel or foot on the pedal. The May 5, 2021, crash in Fontana, a city 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, is also under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The probe is the 29th case involving a Tesla that the federal agency has probed. (AP Photo/David Zalubowsi, File)

A Tesla car driver who was recently killed in a fatal crash in California may have been driving the electric vehicle using its driver-assist system, autopilot, at the time of the accident, according to officials from the California Highway Patrol.

Steven Hendrickson, 35, was killed when his white Tesla Model 3 rammed into an overturned lorry on May 5 in Fontana.

Hendrickson, who was the member of Southern California chapter of a Tesla club, used to post photos and videos of his Model 3 car on his Instagram account while driving it on Autopilot. He is also seen driving the car without placing his hands on the steering wheel and feet on the pedal in his previous videos.

“Best carpool buddy possible even takes the boring traffic for me,” he commented in one of the videos on Instagram.

The crash, which also seriously injured a man who was helping the lorry driver, has increased scrutiny of accidents involving Tesla vehicles' autopilot system over the last few months. The car maker's move to call its driver-assist system the autopilot could lead users to think the car could drive itself, experts say.

However, the world's most valuable electric vehicle company has said it does not plan to make its cars fully autonomous. Autopilot is supposed to be engaged when there is a "fully attentive driver" who has his "hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment", Tesla said.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) on Thursday said that its initial investigation had determined that the Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged before the crash.

However, on Friday, it said “there has not been a final determination made as to what driving mode the Tesla was in or if it was a contributing factor to the crash”.

“While the CHP does not normally comment on ongoing investigations, the department recognises the high level of interest centred around crashes involving Tesla vehicle," CHP said.

“We felt this information provides an opportunity to remind the public that driving is a complex task that requires a driver's full attention.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to The National's request for comment.

Hendrickson's accident is the 29th case involving a Tesla car that the US federal agency National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into.

Last month, a Tesla car crashed into a tree and burst into flames in Houston, killing two people. Officials said the car appeared to have been driving itself at the time of the crash.

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