Driver Whose Tesla Crashed on Autopilot Issued Careless Driving Citation

PHOTO: A Tesla Model X is displayed during the Geneva Motor Show 2016 on March 1, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
A Tesla Model X is displayed during the Geneva Motor Show 2016 on March 1, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.

A driver in Montana said his Tesla Model X was on autopilot when it veered off the road and struck a cable rail, Montana Highway Patrol told ABC News today.

No one was injured, but the vehicle, traveling at around 55 to 60 mph, lost a wheel and sustained “significant damage” to the passenger side after it careened off Highway 2 just after midnight Saturday, according to MHP.

Tesla, which calls autopilot an “assist feature,” said data pulled from the car suggest the driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel -- which is “contrary to the terms of use.”

According to the automaker, “as road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted the driver to put his hands on the wheel. He did not do so.”

A state trooper issued the driver a citation for careless driving. Given the time of night, the vehicle’s speed, and the windy road, the officer felt the driver should have been more attentive, MHP told ABC News.

Ultimately, the safety of a car on autopilot is the driver’s responsibility, Tesla said. Before autopilot is switched on, the in-car screen reminds drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and to remain prepared to take control at any time.

Autopilot mode “is best suited either for highways with a center divider or any road while in slow-moving traffic. We specifically advise against its use at high speeds on undivided roads,” Tesla said in a statement. “That said, provided the driver remains alert, it will still be safer than a person driving unaided.”

The Montana crash is the latest Tesla accident allegedly involving autopilot. In May, 40-year-old Joshua Brown was killed when he and the car’s autopilot failed to notice a white tractor-trailer making a left turn on a divided highway. Investigators later discovered a portable DVD player and laptop in the car. It remains unclear whether either device was in use at the time of the crash.

In the wake of that incident, investors cried foul, claiming the company should have disclosed the crash -- and an ensuing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration preliminary investigation -- earlier.

“Given the fact that the 'better-than-human' threshold had been crossed and robustly validated internally, news of a statistical inevitability did not materially change any statements previously made about the Autopilot system, its capabilities, or net impact on roadway safety,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a blog post. “There is no evidence to suggest that Autopilot was not operating as designed.”