The feds are investigating a Tesla Model S that crashed while on Autopilot as the driver used her phone

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Tesla crashSouth Jordan Police Department via AP

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the circumstances around a Tesla Model S that crashed into a fire department vehicle in South Jordan Utah.
  • The driver told police that Autopilot was in use at the time of the crash and that she had been looking at her phone.
  • Federal agencies are looking into several other recent collisions involving Tesla vehicles, some of which occurred while the Autopilot semi-autonomous driving technology was activated.
  • Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel while using Autopilot, because of the technology's limitations.

A Tesla Model S that crashed into a fire department vehicle in South Jordan, Utah, has gotten the attention of agents at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The federal agency has sent a team to conduct an investigation into the crash, which happened last Friday. The 28-year-old driver told police she had Tesla's semi-autonomous driving technology, Autopilot, activated - and that she was using her phone at the time of the crash.

"Consistent with NHTSA's oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, the agency has launched its special crash investigations team to gather information on the South Jordan, Utah, crash," a statement from the agency read, adding that it would take "appropriate action" based on its findings.

This latest investigation follows a spate of collisions involving Tesla vehicles in recent months.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating four separate collisions involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot. An NTSB representative reached by Business Insider on Wednesday evening said the agency is not involved with the investigation in South Jordan, Utah, at this time.

Many of the Tesla-involved crashes in which Autopilot was active have made for some unflattering headlines, much to the chagrin of the electric-car company's CEO, Elon Musk, and some Tesla fans. But the incidents suggest there is a broader misunderstanding about Autopilot's limitations.

The semi-autonomous driving technology requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel, even when Autopilot is in use.

The feature has a limited ability to decipher road markings that keep Tesla vehicles centered within their respective lanes, and its functionality can vary depending on other road and weather conditions. Autopilot cannot cause Teslas to drive themselves without some input and oversight from the occupant in the driver's seat.

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