Just two months after Elon Musk was engaged in major damage control over a scandal involving a Tesla Model S which crashed while in self-driving mode, killing its driver, China Daily reports that a Tesla Model S crashed in Beijing on August 2, while the car had its autopilot on and the driver had both hands off the steering wheel.
This is the first autopilot crash in China, in which luckily nobody was killed or injured.
Luo Zhen, the driver of the car, has been driving for seven years, and has never been involved in any accident before. "My car hit the right side of a black Santana that was parked in the inner lane of the road after it had developed some mechanical problem," he said.
He added that before the crash happened, he could see almost half of the Santana's back and there was a reaction time of around five seconds, but Tesla's Autopilot system failed to spot the vehicle and crashed into it, while another car that was initially in front of him bypassed it successfully.
"After the accident, I had to manually stop the car, otherwise it would have kept going, as if it had just hit a speed bump," Luo said.
A video of the incident was posted on CarNewsChina, in which as Jalopnik observes, the Tesla is moving quite slowly when a disabled Santana on the left comes into view, about 100 feet after a warning triangle. The car in front of the Tesla has no issue scooting over in its lane to make room. The Tesla, for some reason however, makes no such move.
As Jalopnik puts it, "It all seems fairly avoidable to me."
Cited by Xinhua, Luo said that he thought the car's reaction was confusing because it did not conform to the car's priority reaction of automatically turning right and following the vehicle in front. Instead it kept going.
The Santana's taillight and reflectors were damaged, while the Tesla Model S's left front bumper, left front headlight, left front fender and left mirror were crashed.
The accident has cost Luo 50,000 yuan ($7,525) on repairs. And when he bought the car, he spent more than 20,000 yuan on the optional Autopilot Convenience Features.
Believing there are technical bugs in the system of Autopilot, Luo said Tesla should take half of the responsibility, while the other half should be paid by the Santana's driver for illegal parking. However, there is no law in China and many other countries that clearly states who should be held responsible in case a self-driven vehicle is involved in an accident.
"There are not many self-driven cars at the moment, so it is unrealistic to expect a law," said Fu Yuwu, chairman of Society of Automotive Engineers of China, according to a report by National Business Daily.
After contacting Tesla and only getting the contact detail of the insurance company, an angry Luo posted an article telling details of the accident and his opinions on Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Wednesday, which has drawn dozens of comments and discussions. Luo criticized Tesla for exaggerating the automatic driving function but only using a small space on the manual to warn users that it is only an assistance driving system.
However, adding insult to (monetary) injury, a comment on his post said Tesla's manual specifically warned drivers not to remove their hands from the steering wheel, adding that it is illegal to do this in China.
Luo said a lawyer team has contacted him to support him to sue Tesla for false advertising, but he has not decided whether to do it yet. Duan Zhengzheng, public relation manager at Tesla China, declined the telephone interview request to comment on.
While we doubt Tesla's reputation will take a big hit as a result of this incident, what is more curious is the revelation that driving in China without having one's hands on the steering wheel is illegal: if accurate, this means that the concept of driverless cars in China can be put indefinitely on hold at least until such time as the law is changed. However, for that to happen, a lot of palms will have to be greased, and also begs the question whether Uber, which lately has been also betting its future on a vision of self-driving cars taking over the world, figured out just how major the hurdles would be for its grand design when it comes to the most deisrable market of all, and is why last week it conceded the race for Chinese marketshare to its local competitor, Didi.