Cutting Edge Technology

by John Delach

What could possibly go wrong?


Most of us are familiar with the crash of a Tesla Model S in 2016 on US Highway 27 outside of Williston, Florida. Joshua Brown was traveling at 74 mph using cruise control and his Tesla’s Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning systems commonly referred to as an “autopilot.”


At the intersection of NE 140th Court, he encountered a tractor-trailer driven by Frank Baressi making a left turn onto NE 140th thereby blocking Highway 77. For whatever reason, neither Mr. Brown nor the vehicles autopilot recognized the truck and the Tesla passed under the trailer without slowing down. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that Mr. Brown had seven seconds to take action by braking or attempting to steer around the truck.  The crash sheared off the windshield and roof of the Tesla killing Mr. Brown. The report noted: … “Mr. Brown failed to observe the truck crossing his path”…”took no evasive action.” and “There were no skid marks from braking and telematics pulled from the Tesla showed the brake pedal was never pressed.”


The sedan traveled more than 900 feet after the initial impact hitting two wire fences and a wooden utility pole before the now powerless car came to a stop. Damage to the truck and trailer were minimal and the police allowed Mr. Baressi to complete his delivery two miles away before taking possession of the vehicle.


Despite the obvious, both the NHTSA and the Florida Highway Patrol considered Mr. Baressi at fault for failing to give right of way during a left turn.


Further, the “NHTSA found the autopilot system had worked appropriately and was not designed to alert on a crossing vehicle.”


“Tesla’s own investigation revealed that the car’s cameras failed to notice the white side of the trailer against the brightly lit sky. Tesla notes that if the car had impacted the wheels of the trailer or the truck itself, the vehicle’s safety systems would likely have prevented serious injury.”


The reports do not speculate what Mr. Brown was doing prior to the accident and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has made the point that the autopilot saves lives. “One percent is 12,000 lives saved every year,” Musk said last September. “I think it would be morally wrong to withhold functionalities that improve safety in order to avoid criticisms or for fear of being involved in lawsuits.”


If Mr. Musk is this concerned about safety, perhaps he’d like to comment on a certain option Tesla offers to the public? Back in 2015, Tesla announced that their Model S sedan would include a so called, “Ludicrous Option” in top end Model S line that has a base price of $119,200.  David Undercoffler of noted: “The electric-vehicle maker, channeling one of the more absurd moments of Mel Brooks’ comedy, ‘Spaceballs, ’announced this $10,000 option…that runs zero to 60 in a face-stretching 2.8 seconds.”


Tesla already had “Insane Mode” an option that made this leap in 3.2 seconds. Musk explained to reporters, “Nobody was asking for Ludicrous Mode because it was too ludicrous. Insane mode has been incredibly well-received. We figured out by engineering Zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, (this) puts the Model S, a large sedan, in the realm of some of the fastest sports cars on the road today. It’s faster than Porsche’s top-end 911 Turbo S which needs 2.9 seconds to hit the same speed.”


Fast forward to January of 2017. The following story appeared on the front page of my local paper, Port Washington News, written by Meagan McCarty under the headline: “The Miracle At Soundview:”


“Date night is something that all couples look forward to, as did a middle aged couple who wanted to see a movie and drove their Tesla to the Soundview Cinema on Shore Road, Wednesday, January 18.

“After the movie let out, with the wife behind the wheel, the couple started to make their way to Shore Road by driving through the shopping center lot. According to first responders, the driver was trying to navigate the lot when she inadvertently hit the button for ‘Ludicrous Mode.’

“Once that button was pushed, the driver lost control of the vehicle, striking a brick stanchion at the entrance, toppling it and pinning the passenger underneath.”


The stanchion was actually a concrete pillar encased in bricks measuring three feet wide on each side and twelve feet high.  


“The Tesla appeared completely flattened, like an abstract sculpture with shards of glass and twisted metal…Almost immediately the driver walked out of the vehicle, stunned and shaken, but mercifully, nothing more. It took rescue workers 35 minutes to stabilize both the wreck and the stanchion that fell on top of the passenger’s side before they were able to extract her husband.  He complained of a bruised shoulder to EMS workers before he was transported to St. Francis Hospital for further examination. “


Would someone please explain to me if Elon Musk is so concerned about the morality of increasing safety, why on earth would he decided to equip a sedan with such a feature and then sell it to middle aged customers?