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Tesla Involved in Second Auto-Pilot Crash This Weekend

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 14, 2016 1:07 PM

These are bad times for Tesla, but they could be worse. Over the weekend, apparently, another Tesla vehicle was involved in a crash after the vehicle's driver-assist program failed to navigate unfamiliar terrain on a remote Montana mountain roadway. The good news is that this time the driver lived to tell the tale.

Elon Musk, the company's head (and face) tweeted that the company "[didn't] mind taking the heat for customer safety." That should quell the nerves of shareholders, we're sure.

From Mania to Scandal

Tesla's troubles fit a familiar pattern. A startup makes its splash into the corporate scene and makes the new "in" product. Within a few months to a year, everyone who is anyone is talking about it, drinking it, driving it, wearing it. Chipotle, Tesla, Fitbit, etc.

But Chipotle got slammed with the E. coli scandal. Then Fitbit got sued over claims that its wearable tracker was lying to its users.

Now it's Tesla's turn. It seemed only a matter of time before Tesla's auto-pilot feature would be connected to another crash. It seemed only a matter of time before Tesla's auto-pilot feature would be connected to another crash, just a few weeks after Tesla announced it was being investigated for an earlier auto-pilot related fatality.

Could Have Been Worse

Actually, as far as bad news is concerned for Tesla, this turned out about as well for the company as it realistically could have hoped.

This crash took place on a somewhat remote mountain road into the wee hours of the night. The driver, like Joshua Brown, switched on his Tesla's auto-pilot feature and appeared to kick-back and relax.

And here's where Tesla can breathe a little easier: an analysis of the driving data indicates that not only did the driver not keep his hands on the steering wheel (as Tesla so judiciously demands each time the driver uses the feature), the Model X repeatedly warned the driver to put his hands on the wheel -- and the driver ignored these alerts. Moments later, the crash took place.

You Call That Auto-piloting?

This means that Tesla could claim driver contributory negligence with relative ease. Other factors seem to help the company too. The lateness of the hour, the fact that the feature comes with the caveat of constant driver vigilance, and the warning that the auto-pilot feature is "best suited for highways with a center divider." In the Montana crash, it was reported that the road was unpaved.

Gets Better

Another fact that spices up the legal issues even more was that the car gave alerts in English but the driver, surnamed Pang, only spoke Mandarin Chinese.

Still, we have to ask. What good is an auto-pilot feature if the driver has to constantly have his or her hands on the wheel? Some might call that user driving...

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