Tesla faces fresh safety probe following fatal accident

US officials suspect that driver assistance technology was involved.

Sjoerd van der Wal via Getty Images

Regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are opening a probe involving a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model Y. The accident, occurring on July 19, found a Tesla striking a tractor-trailer truck in Virginia, fatally wounding the driver of the automobile. These regulators believe that the 57-year-old Tesla driver was relying on the company’s advanced driver assistance programs at the time of the accident, according to a report by Reuters.

The Fauquier County Sheriff's Office provided more details on the accident, saying that the tractor trailer attempted to turn onto a highway from a truck stop when the Tesla struck the side and slid underneath the trailer. The Tesla driver was pronounced dead at the scene. As for the truck driver, authorities issued a summons for reckless driving.

The summons indicates that authorities blame the truck’s driver for the incident, but Tesla’s assistance program is supposed to account for mistakes stemming from other people on the road, thus the NHTSA investigation. To that end, the safety regulator has opened more than three dozen investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles and their advanced assistance algorithms. All told, the agency suspects the system has been involved in 23 deaths since 2016.

In 2021, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urged the NHTSA to issue stricter regulations for autonomous driving, stating in its letter that “Tesla is testing on public roads a highly automated AV technology but with limited oversight or reporting requirements.”

Tesla’s proprietary Autopilot technology is intended to steer, accelerate and brake within the vehicle’s lane, while an enhanced system assists with changing lanes on highways. Tesla says the system isn’t truly automated and requires active human supervision. The company hasn’t responded to a request for comment by Reuters regarding this latest accident and the newly-opened probe.