2 Tesla drivers tried to re-create the fatal Model X accident and showed a potential limitation with Autopilot

  • On Friday, Tesla revealed that the Model X driver who died in an accident in California had activated Autopilot before the crash.
  • Two YouTube videos from other Tesla drivers may shed light on what could have caused the Model X to drive into a highway barrier.
  • The videos appear to show how Autopilot can become confused by faded lane markings.

On Friday, Tesla revealed that the Model X driver who died in an accident in California had activated Autopilot before the crash. While Tesla said the driver received multiple warnings to put his hands on the wheel before the accident, two YouTube videos from other Tesla drivers shed light on what may have caused the Model X to drive into a highway barrier.

One video shows a Model S driving through the same segment of the highway where the crash occurred with Autopilot activated. As the road approaches the barrier, a new lane marking indicates that drivers need to veer right if they want to stay on the road.

But the new lane marking is more faded than the prior left-hand lane marker, which becomes the right-hand lane marker for a ramp that allows drivers to exit to a new road. In the video, the Model S, which has Autopilot engaged, does not recognize the new lane marker and continues to use the old lane marker, which would lead it into the barrier.

Another video, taken on a highway in Chicago (according to Electrek), shows a Model S making the same mistake and nearly causing a similar accident.

While certainly not an official investigation, the two videos seem to show the potential limitations of Autopilot. While the software’s automatic-steering feature can keep a vehicle in its lane on the highway, it does so by reading the lane markings. If a lane marking has faded, it’s more difficult for the vehicle to recognize it, and if the faded lane marking is close to one that is more prominent, the vehicle may assume the more prominent marking is the one to follow.

When Autopilot launched in 2015, CEO Elon Musk noted that the software worked best in areas with clear road markings.

The videos also emphasize Tesla’s point that Autopilot is not a fully autonomous system and should not be treated as one. Business Insider’s Matthew DeBord came to the same conclusion after testing the Autopilot system in multiple Tesla vehicles.