A Tesla owner whose car crashed Sunday evening in New Jersey blamed the vehicle’s Autopilot, which he told police unexpectedly took over moments before the accident.
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It was just after 6:30 p.m. when the driver, Eric Carter, of Hamilton, was heading north in his Tesla Model X on Route 1 in North Brunswick approaching Adams Lane, police said.
Carter told police he intended to go straight but the vehicle’s steering wheel suddenly pulled to the right as he approached the intersection. The wheel locked to the right, Carter said, and a message appeared that the car had detected a new lane.
"His feeling is the vehicle registered the turn lane and got confused," said North Brunswick Police Captain Brian Hoiberg.
The Tesla went off the road, struck a curb, hit some traffic signs and careened over another curb before it came to rest in a grassy area, police said.
The vehicle has "extensive" damage, police said, but there were no injuries.
Carter did not receive any summonses, police said.
A Tesla spokesperson told ABC News on Monday they "are not aware of a single instance in which Autopilot refused to disengage" since the system launched in 2015.
"Safety is the top priority at Tesla, and we engineer and build our cars with this in mind. We also ask our customers to exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles, including following the car’s instructions for remaining alert and present when using Autopilot and to be prepared to take control at all times," Tesla said in a statement to ABC News Monday. "A driver can easily override Autopilot by lightly touching the steering wheel or brakes. Moreover, the brakes have an independent bypass circuit that cuts power to the motor no matter what the Autopilot computer requests. And the steering wheel has enough leverage for a person to overpower the electric steering assist at all times."
Despite the name "Autopilot," Tesla's driver assistance technology does not make the vehicle autonomous. Tesla's website says the technology is "intended for use only with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time."
Statistically, drivers appear to be safer in a vehicle with Autopilot than a vehicle with no driver assistance, the company said.
Data provided by Tesla in October 2018 said when Autopilot was active in a vehicle, one accident occurred for every 3.34 million miles driven. The most recent federal data indicates "one auto crash for every 492,000 miles driven in the U.S. without an autonomous assist," according to The Associated Press.
There were no witnesses to the one-car crash in New Jersey, police said. Carter is the only source of information.
While the department had no similar crashes on file, a police source said at this point “there’s no reason not to believe” the driver’s account. The source noted the absence of alcohol, drugs or any claim that Carter was run off the road.
Tesla has reached out to the North Brunswick Police Department seeking additional information, a police source said.