An unoccupied Tesla Model S drove itself under a parked trailer. Who’s at fault?

tesla s summon under trailer truck
Telsa Model S used Summon feature to drive under this trailer KSL-TV
No one is questioning the fact that Utah resident Jared Overton’s Tesla Model S drove itself under a parked trailer, according to a report on KSL. What is in question is whether Overton inadvertently activated the car’s “Summon” function, as Tesla says, or if the car malfunctioned and started moving slowly on its own, as Overton claims.

The Tesla Model S’s Summon function is an autopilot mode for finding and parking in spaces and garages. In a response to The Drive’s inquiry and article about this incident, Tesla said the Model S travels at a maximum speed of 1.06 mph while in Summon mode.

Overton said he had driven to a business and parked well behind a trailer that was also parked on the same side of the street. Someone from the business came outside to see the car and that after a while — at least 20 seconds — they both went inside. When Overton came back outside he saw the car had driven underneath the back of the trailer, causing what turned out to be $700 in windshield damage.

After reporting the incident to Tesla, Overton received a letter from a regional service manager that read in part, “Tesla has reviewed the vehicle’s logs, which show that the incident occurred as a result of the driver not being properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings while using the Summon feature or maintaining responsibility for safely controlling the vehicle at all times.” The letter also said the Summon feature, “was initiated by a double-press of the gear selector stalk button, shifting from Drive to Park and requesting Summon activation.” The Tesla response said the Summon feature activated three seconds after Overton got out and closed the door.

Overton has said he and the employee from the business he visited were outside much longer than three seconds and would have noticed if the vehicle was moving. And even had they not, they would have heard the car hit the trailer in the time it took to walk to and enter the business.

After KSL’s initial report on this incident, Tesla got in touch and told them that the Summon feature is in “beta” (development) mode but added, “This feature will park Model S while the driver is outside the vehicle. Please note that the vehicle may not detect certain obstacles, including those that are very narrow (e.g., bikes), lower than the fascia, or hanging from the ceiling. As such, Summon requires that you continually monitor your vehicle’s movement and surroundings while it is in progress and that you remain prepared to stop the vehicle at any time using your key fob or mobile app or by pressing any door handle. You must maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle when using this feature and should only use it on private property.”

Tesla is sure that Overton activated the Summon function based on its review of the vehicle’s data (cars have accessible “black boxes” just like planes). Overton believes they’re dismissing his version of what happened, even though he and the workman from the other company agree. He also said his concern is not the money, but that in a similar situation someone might be injured.

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