Bagel Eating Driver Was Using Autopilot When Tesla Crashed into Culver City Firetruck

    A mangled Tesla is shown on the 405 Freeway after crashing into the back of a fire truck. Photo: Culver City Firefighters' Union.

    National Transportation Safety Board releases on about 2018 crash

    By Sam Catanzaro

    Shortcomings in Tesla’s autopilot system were partly responsible for a 2018 crash in which a Tesla rear-ended a Culver City fire truck in Culver City on the San Diego (405) Freeway.


    According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Tesla Model S’ 47-year-old driver relied too heavily on the autopilot function, which led the vehicle to crash into the back of a firetruck partially blocking the carpool lane on the southbound 405 Freeway near Washington Boulevard.

    “The probable cause of the Culver City, California, rear-end crash was the Tesla driver’s lack of response to the stationary fire truck in his travel lane, due to inattention and over-reliance on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system; the Tesla’s Autopilot design, which permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task; and the driver’s use of the system in ways inconsistent with guidance and warnings from the manufacturer,” reads an NTSB report released Wednesday.

    According to the driver, the autopilot system was activated during his work commute and he was eating a bagel and drinking coffee, but could not remember if either was in his hand at the moment of impact.

    According to the report, the Tesla was traveling southbound on the 405 in the carpool lane, with a vehicle directly in front of it. When the vehicles came upon the parked fire truck, the lead driver changed lanes to the right in order to avoid the truck. The Tesla, however, accelerated, slamming into the rear corner of the fire truck.

    The report noted that the Tesla’s collision-avoidance tool did not activate, stating that “stationary objects” display a “challenging scenario” for such autopilot systems. The report said the system also has problems when a lead vehicle changes lanes rapidly to reveal a stationary vehicle.

    “By the time the system detected the stationary vehicle and gave the driver a collision warning … the collision was imminent and the warning was too late, particularly for an inattentive driver,” reads the report. “The driver’s lack of braking and steering in response to the stopped fire truck, his statement that he never saw the fire truck and his potential in-vehicle distractions — bagel, cup of coffee, radio — all suggest that the driver was not attending to the driving task before the crash.”

    There were no reported injuries in the collision