Investigators are looking into if Tesla’s Autopilot mode was “a contributing factor” in the death of a driver killed in a California crash who shared a clip of himself driving without his hands on the wheel.
Steven Michael Hendrickson, 35, a father of two, died when his Tesla Model 3 collided with an overturned semi on a freeway in Fontana at about 2:30 a.m. on May 5.
The car’s Autopilot was initially “engaged” before the crash, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) initially said Thursday, but later clarified that “a final determination has not been made.”
Hendrickson shared his passion for his car on social media regularly, with numerous comments boasting about the car’s ability to drive without assistance.
“What would do I do without my full self-driving Tesla after a long day at work,” he posted. “Coming home from LA after work, thank god, self-drive.”
It was “an opportunity to remind the public that driving is a complex task that requires a driver’s full attention,” the CHP explained why it only gave comments on the deadly crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is still looking into the incident, which is the federal agency’s 29th examination into a Tesla accident.
In the last 29 U.S. accidents concerning Autopilot, at least three people died.
In two accidents in Florida between 2016 and 2019, Tesla drivers were killed with their cars equipped with Autopilot driving under crossing tractor-trailers.
An Apple engineer was killed in a 2018 accident in Mountain View, California when his Tesla collided with a highway barrier while traveling on Autopilot.
Several Teslas have collided with fire trucks and police cars parked on freeways with their emergency lights blinking.
Both Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving,” according to Tesla’s owner’s manuals and website, are not entirely automatic, and users must be alert and be prepared to interfere at any moment.
“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,” the CHP told the AP.
According to the outlet, Hendrickson once uploaded a clip to his Instagram account displaying him in the driver’s seat with no hands on the wheel or foot on the gas pedal on the freeway.
Tesla’s Autopilot technology enables automobiles to slow, speed, and change lanes automatically. However, Tesla claims that this feature does not make the car wholly independent and needs driver intervention.