German police said an electric Tesla vehicle crashed into a tourist bus on a motorway on September 28, with the driver claiming he had activated the car’s autopilot mode. It follows an incident in May this year when a Tesla vehicle’s sensor system reportedly failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway before it in Florida, resulting in a devastating crash.
The driver of the Tesla car in Germany was slightly injured, while the 29 people on board the Danish bus were unhurt in the incident on Wednesday, police in Ratzeburg in Schleswig-Holstein state said. The 50-year-old driver's car hit the bus as it changed lanes outside the northern town of Gudow. The driver told police that he had not removed his hands from the wheel while the autopilot was activated, German press agency DPA reported.
"We will now have to look into why the autopilot didn't work" to prevent the crash, police said in a statement, according to AFP. Available for Tesla's Model S electric cars since October 2015, the driverless autopilot system has come under global scrutiny following fatal crashes in northern China in January and the crash in Florida in May.
The Florida case attracted the attention of a U.S. Senate Committee, which demanded a briefing on the autopilot's role in the accident. Consumer activists have called on the company, founded by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, to disable the autopilot feature until it is updated to detect whether the driver's hands are on the steering wheel during operation, as the company says they ought to be.
The incident raised serious concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles. Tesla attempted to avoid blame for the man’s death, claiming that it was Tesla’s first known autopilot death in some 130 million vehicles driven by its customers.
“Among all vehicles in the U.S., there is a fatality every 94 million miles,” the company noted in a statement, which continued to highlight that the car’s autonomous software is designed for users to keep their hands on the wheels to ensure they’re paying attention. “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still required the driver to remain alert,” said Tesla.