I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Tesla crash in September showed similarities to fatal Mountain View accident

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 I-Team has exclusive information about a different Tesla crash six months ago, that the driver says has similarities to what happened in Mountain View late last month.

As the I-Team worked the story this week, several Tesla drivers posted videos online that, they say, show their Autopilot veering off course. The company tells Dan Noyes they have made it clear -- Autopilot is a driver assistance system that requires you to pay attention to the road at all times.

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The I-Team obtained video from a big rig, Eastbound Highway 92 just before the 880 merge. The morning sun was low when the trucker came upon the crash and rushes to help.

The car's driver who does not want to be identified tells Dan Noyes he had Autopilot "on" in his Tesla Model S during the Sept. 21, 2017 crash. The sun got in his eyes, he says, and by the time he wanted to take over, the car slammed into the merge divider. The CHP confirms the driver told officers his Autopilot was on.

Unlike the crash that killed Walter Huang, the safety barrier was in working order and he driver walked away uninjured.

Jim McPherson of SafeSelfDive.org tells us, "The low sun angle could also pose a problem for the cameras that Tesla uses to drive."

VIDEO: Mountain View Tesla driver shows car veering while using Autopilot
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As the I-Team worked the story this week, several Tesla drivers posted videos online that, they say, show their Autopilot veering off course. The company tells Dan Noyes they have made it clear -- Autopilot is a driver assistance system that requires you to pay attention to the road at all times.

After we showed the photos and video to Jim McPherson, he pointed to similarities between the September crash and the one that killed Walter Huang in Mountain View.

Both Teslas had low morning sun, both traveling at highway speeds, both on Autopilot, and both may have become confused by the road markings.

"You have a difference in the pavement color," said McPherson. "You have white lines that auto pilot usually uses to center itself within the lane."

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A Tesla owner who commutes the same route Walter Huang did before he died tells us, he recorded a trip by the accident scene this week while on Autopilot.

"The car definitely swerves," said Shantanu Joshi. "Starts swerving left without giving me any warnings right into that divider."

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The Autopilot appears to follow that white line on the left and heads toward the barrier. Joshi said he had to take over the wheel and swerve to safety.

Also this week, a general contractor from Chicago told the I-Team the Autopilot on his Model X often has problems at the same location on his commute, so he made this recording. Autopilot appears to take him straight at a barrier; he says he had to brake to avoid a crash.

Wednesdsay, a Tesla spokeswoman told the I-Team, "Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver," and that it "does not prevent all accidents - such a standard would be impossible - but it makes them much less likely to occur."

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A 38-year-old man was killed when his Tesla crashed and caught on fire in Mountain View.

The Model X owner's manual is clear that the Autopilot is a "Beta feature" and "never depend on Autosteer to determine an appropriate driving path. Always be prepared to take immediate action. Failure to follow these instructions could cause damage, serious injury or death."

"Drivers try to do other things while they're driving and not paying attention and those are situations in which they get in trouble," says UC Berkeley Research Professor Steven Shladover, considered a pioneer in self-driving technology. He told Dan Noyes Tesla should take a cue from GM's "Smart Cruise" system that aims cameras at the driver.

The company's promotional video says, "Proprietary software makes sure your eyes are on the road."

Tesla's complete statement to the I-Team reiterated the company's stance that autopilot is meant to assistant the vehicle's driver:

"Contrary to what some reports and videos imply, Autopilot does not make a Tesla an autonomous car or allow a driver to abdicate responsibility. To review it as such reflects a misrepresentation of our system and is exactly the kind of misinformation that threatens to harm consumer safety. We have been very clear that Autopilot is a driver assistance system that requires the driver to pay attention to the road at all times, and it has been found by NHTSA to reduce accident rates by 40%. It would be highly unfortunate if videos like this influenced people to not use a system that adds to safety."

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Shladover adds that people should be realistic about the limitations of these driver-assisted systems, at this point in time.

"We have to recognize we've got to crawl before we walk," says Shladover. "We got to walk before we run and we're still at the crawling stage with this technology."

There is one big difference in the crashes. The safety barrier Walter Huang hit had been collapsed by another crash eleven days before. He basically hit a wall and died, and this other driver who hit the working smart cushion walked away. Dan Noyes reached Walter's brother. Planning for a public service is still underway, and today, he says the family hired an attorney.

Click here to read the NHTSA report Tesla references in their statement.

Click here to read the police report from the Hayward Tesla crash.

Click here to read the Tesla owner's manual.

Click here for the latest stories by Dan Noyes and the I-Team and click here for more stories and videos related to Tesla.

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