It is a nearly four-hour drive southeast of Wesley Chapel to get to Delray Beach. The city on Florida’s east coast was the site last year of a Tesla Model 3 crash that garnered national attention because the 50-year-old driver was using the vehicle’s Autopilot system. Neither he nor the system hit the brakes or took any action to avoid an 18-wheeler that was crossing in the Tesla’s path. The car was traveling at 69 miles per hour when it struck the truck’s trailer.

Violent impact

According to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the motor vehicle crash, the driver had engaged the Autopilot just seconds before the crash and did not have his hands on the steering wheel. The crash tore the car’s roof off and killed the driver.

Despite that, Tesla says that vehicles on its Autopilot system are about twice as safe as those that haven’t deployed the system. It also says it’s updating the system so that it will spot traffic signals and stop signs and automatically bring vehicles to a halt.

CEO Elon Musk says that by the end of the year, some Tesla cars will be fully self-driving.

The NTSB isn’t convinced that Musk’s cars are ready for that big step. The federal agency recommends that limits are placed on where Tesla vehicles can be operated in Autopilot mode. It says the system has failed to detect and react to dangers in at least three fatal wrecks.

Tesla has told owners in a test group that the stoplight and stop sign recognition feature will slow cars when it detects traffic signals (including green or blinking yellow lights). Drivers are required to signal that it’s safe to proceed by pushing the gear selector and pressing the accelerator pedal.

Drivers must be ready

The company warns drivers to be ready to take over, “including braking because this feature may not stop for all traffic controls.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued its own warning, saying drivers using the new feature should be ready to take immediate actions to prevent crashes and that they will be held responsible.

The head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety said Tesla is using the feature for marketing purposes, even though it might not function as promised. “Unfortunately, we’ll find out the hard way.”

If you or a member of your family has been harmed in a crash in the Wesley Chapel area, contact an attorney who knows how to obtain maximum compensation in personal injury litigation and in negotiations with insurers.