Regulators investigating after autopilot Tesla kills motorcyclist

Tesla’s self-driving car technology is raising questions again, as US regulators investigate a fatal Tesla-motorcycle collision.

The crash, between a 2020 Tesla 3 and a Harley-Davidson, happened in July when the motorcycle was traveling in the high occupancy lane near the city of Draper, Utah in the early hours of the morning. The rider died after being struck from behind by a Tesla 3 which was in autopilot mode, authorities say. Utah’s Department of Public Safety said the driver told authorities the autopilot mode was engaged, and he did not see the motorcyclist.

The SMIDSY (Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you!) excuse is as old as the hills, and kind of expected for a collision that happens after midnight. But the fact that the car was allegedly on auto-pilot when it hit the rider from behind? Obviously, that is very concerning for motorcyclists, “smart” car drivers, regulators, and anyone else potentially involved with autopilot automobiles. As such, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it has opened a special investigation into the crash.

Since 2016, the NHTSA says it’s opened 38 special investigations into collisions between Teslas and other vehicles of all kinds (not just motorcycles) when the Tesla auto-pilot system was involved. One of the earliest high-profile incidents came in 2017, when a Tesla Model X struck a police motorcycle in Phoenix, while the car was under autopilot. There was no major damage or injury in that event, and it’s unclear whether the NHTSA got involved.

Tesla is not the only company that’s been involved with these sorts of problems. In a much-publicized story from 2018, GM settled out-of-court with a motorcyclist who was struck by a self-driving Cruise, and subsequently sued. In general, there have been many, many questions about the safety of not just motorcyclists but also pedestrians and bicyclists with new autopilot tech hitting the market. No matter how many questions arise, though, we still haven’t heard the words: “Shut it down.” Instead, even motorcycle manufacturers themselves seem intent on pursuing the tech forward.


  1. One study from Europe stated self driving and automated driver assist systems have failed to recognize motorcycles in traffic as much as 34% of the time. I would think an acceptable failure rate should be far less than 1% at the very most. If the systems cannot identify a motorcycle in traffic, what makes anyone think they will recognize bicycles or pedestrians? When proponents of these systems are questioned about the failure rate, the usual reply is the systems are still being developed and collateral damage is to be expected. Why are these things on the street in live traffic being operated by the general public?

  2. Why do we need self driving cars? We’ve taken the fun of driving away and now we seem to want cars to drive themselves. Is it safer? Obviously not. Can we go back to the ’60s and enjoy a family holiday in a station wagon?

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