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Tesla: Autopilot mode did not contribute to Pa. crash

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Tesla Motors Inc. strengthened its stance Wednesday afternoon that “Autopilot” mode in one of its vehicles did not contribute to a July 1 crash in Pennsylvania involving two Michigan residents.

The Palo Alto, California-based automaker said additional information obtained by the company shows there’s “no reason to believe that Autopilot had anything to do with this accident.”

“We received an automated alert from this vehicle on July 1 indicating air bag deployment, but logs containing detailed information on the state of the vehicle controls at the time of the collision were never received,” the company said. “This is consistent with damage of the severity reported in the press, which can cause the antenna to fail.”

The remarks came after the company earlier in the day had said Tesla had “no data to suggest” that the driver-assist feature was “engaged at the time of the incident.”

A Wednesday media report said that Southfield art gallery owner Albert Scaglione told police his 2016 Tesla Model X was in the driver-assistance “Autopilot” mode when it crashed and rolled over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

According to a crash report from Pennsylvania law enforcement, Scaglione and a passenger were involved in an accident around 5 p.m. Friday; however, Autopilot isn’t mentioned in the police report. Dale Vukovich of the Pennsylvania State Police, who responded to the crash, was not available to comment.

The crash occurred a day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would investigate the self-driving technology used in Tesla cars after a fatal crash on May 7 involving a 2015 Tesla Model S that was operating with its automated driving system activated.

NHTSA on Wednesday said it “is collecting information from the Pennsylvania State Police, Tesla and the driver of a Tesla Model X involved in a crash on July 1 to determine whether automated functions were in use at the time of the crash.”

Tesla, which has been quick to use data to contest Autopilot’s involvement in past crashes, said it has attempted to reach Scaglione three times by phone without any response.

“As we do with all crash events, we immediately reached out to the customer to confirm they were OK and offer support but were unable to reach him,” Tesla said.

The crash, according to the police report, occurred when Scaglione, 77, was driving east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when the SUV hit a guard rail on the right side of the road. It then crossed over the eastbound lanes and hit a concrete median. After hitting the median, the vehicle rolled onto its roof and landed in the middle of the roadway.

Debris from the vehicle hit a 2013 Infiniti G37 being driven by West Chester, Pennsylvania, resident Thomas Hess Jr., according to the police report. A passenger also was in that car.

Both Scaglione of Farmington Hills, and passenger Timothy Yanke, a 54-year-old Huntington Woods resident, were injured in the accident, but the report says the severity is unknown.

A representative with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said neither Scaglione nor Yanke were patients at the hospital as of Wednesday afternoon. The two had been taken there after the accident, according to the crash report.

Neither Scaglione nor Yanke could be reached by The News. Several calls and messages to Scaglione’s Park West Gallery in Southfield were not returned on Wednesday.

A handful of Tesla customers involved in accidents before the fatal crash in May claimed their vehicle was in Autopilot mode, but the company was able to show that the feature wasn’t active at the time of the incident.

Tesla said in its blog on June 30 that the fatality in the May 7 accident in Florida was the “first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated,” and that the number of miles driven without a fatality in Autopilot was better than the fatality rate of every 94 million miles in the United States and approximately every 60 million miles worldwide.

Tesla’s Autopilot is a semi-autonomous but not fully autonomous feature in Tesla’s vehicles that drivers must select after several prompts and warnings. The feature allows the car to steer within a lane, change lanes with the tap of a turn signal and manage speed by using active traffic-aware cruise control.

Autopilot is turned off every time the car is shut down and “requires explicit acknowledgment that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.” When drivers activate Autopilot, it reminds them it is an “assist feature” and that they should keep their hands on the steering wheel.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland