A Texas man said the Autopilot mode on his Tesla Model S sent him off the road and into a guardrail, bloodying his nose and shaking his confidence in the technology. He doesn’t plan to sue the electric-car maker, but his insurance company might. Driver Mark Molthan readily admits that he was not paying full attention. Trusting that Autopilot could handle the route as it had done before, he reached into the glove box to get a cloth and was cleaning the dashboard seconds before the collision, he said.
The car failed to navigate a bend on Highway 175 in rural Kaufman, Texas, and struck a cable guardrail multiple times, according to the police report. Molthan’s experience, while not as serious as a fatal crash that federal regulators are investigating, still highlights the challenges ahead in determining who is to blame when semi-autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents. Insurance claims involving Tesla’s Autopilot are largely uncharted territory, in part because driver behavior is still a contributing factor. Cozen O’Connor, the law firm that represents Molthan’s auto-insurance carrier, a unit of Chubb Ltd., said it sent Tesla Motors Inc. a notice letter requesting joint inspection of the vehicle, which has been deemed a total loss. Tesla said it’s looking into the Texas crash. Tesla stresses that Autopilot is only an assist feature — that drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over at any time.