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Tesla operating in Autopilot hits police car in Michigan, officials say

DETROIT – A Tesla Model Y operating with Autopilot engaged struck a police car early Wednesday morning in Michigan, according to officials. Autopilot is Tesla’s driver assistance system that comes standard with all of its newer models.

The Tesla struck an officer’s blue Dodge Charger sedan as troopers were investigating a crash between a deer and a different vehicle at 1:12 a.m., according to a post by the Michigan State Police on Twitter. The police car was parked and partially sitting in the right lane of a highway with its emergency lights on, Lt. Brian Oleksyk confirmed in an email to CNBC.

The crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Tesla’s all-electric cars that have drawn criticism from vehicle safety advocates and probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. This was also the second collision involving a Tesla vehicle in Michigan over the last week.

Officials said no injuries were sustained to the officers or the unnamed 22-year-old driver of the Tesla, who was issued citations for failure to move over and driving with a suspended license. The driver told police the vehicle was operating in Autopilot, according to Oleksyk. The accident occurred in Eaton County, located about 100 miles northwest of Detroit

Officials with the NHTSA declined to comment on the accident at this time. Tesla did not immediately respond for comment.

NHTSA has previously opened probes into more than a dozen crashes that were thought to involve Tesla’s advanced driver assist systems such as Autopilot.

The most recent probe involved a “violent” crash last week of a Tesla sedan and a tractor trailer in Detroit. Detroit Police Assistant Chief David LeValley said Tuesday at a press briefing “that all indications” are that the Tesla was not in Autopilot at the time of the crash, but the investigation was still underway. He cited statements made by the driver and video showing “evasive maneuvers being conducted just before the crash.” NHTSA and Detroit police have not yet examined data from the vehicle.

Tesla’s systems include a standard Autopilot package. A more advanced option marketed as full self-driving is sold today for $10,000. The company’s Autopilot and full self-driving technology do not make Tesla vehicles safe for operation without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the full self-driving option also get access to a “beta” version to try the newest features that are being added to the system before all bugs are worked out

Investigators have not yet said whether Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD or FSD beta may have contributed to last week’s crash in Detroit. However, Tesla vehicles with Autopilot have collided with stationary objects and large vehicles, including tractor trailers and fire trucks, on multiple occasions.

A 50-year-old, Jeremy Beren Banner of Lake Worth, Florida, died when his Model 3 on Autopilot struck the side of a semi-trailer in Florida on March 1, 2019, resulting in the roof of his car being sheared off as it passed underneath.

Tesla’s Autopilot system, while it has changed significantly over the years, has been a subject of regulatory scrutiny since 2016 when an owner named Joshua Brown died driving his Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged around Gainesville, Florida. The vehicle also collided with a tractor trailer.

Another federal vehicle safety watchdog that gives recommendations to NHTSA, the National Transportation Safety Board, recently called for clear and stringent rules for automated driving systems at a federal level. The board has pointed to Tesla’s approach to automated driving systems as a reason why stronger safety requirements and clear regulation are needed.

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