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Tesla says highway safety barrier did not serve purpose in deadly Mountain View crash

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In a April 30, 2015 file photo, Tesla Motors CEO and SpaceX CEO and CTO Elon Musk introduces a new line of residential and commercial batteries at his design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. (Jerome Adamstein/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

After the National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday that it has launched an investigation into a deadly crash involving a Tesla vehicle on U.S. Highway 101 in Mountain View on Friday, the carmaker issued a statement about what they know happened in the crash.

Tesla officials said on the company’s website that they “proactively reached out to authorities to offer their assistance” in the investigation of the collision, which involved two other sedans on southbound Highway 101 around 9:30 a.m. on March 23.

The blog post states that Tesla does not know what happened in the moments leading up to the crash or what caused it, but they do know that if San Mateo resident Wei Huang’s Model X was running on their self-driving hardware, this incident was an outlier.

“Our data shows that Tesla owners have driven this same stretch of highway with Autopilot engaged roughly 20,000 times since the beginning of the year, and there has never been an accident that we know of,” the company said. “There are over 200 successful Autopilot trips per day on this exact stretch of road.”

Tesla is alleging that the crash was as severe as it was because a highway safety barrier designed to reduce impact before hitting a concrete lane divider, which Huang rammed into, was either removed or crushed in a prior accident and was not replaced.

Tesla placed a Google Street View image from Google Maps and a dash cam footage image from a witness of the accident “who commutes daily past this location” side by side for comparison.

“We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash,” the company said.

Tesla officials said that their battery packs are designed so that in “the rare circumstance” that a car does go up in flames, it spreads slowly to increase the chance of passenger survival.

The car manufacturer said that, to their understanding, there were no occupants still in the car “by the time the fire could have presented a risk.”

“Serious crashes like this can result in fire regardless of the type of car, and Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle,” Tesla officials said in their blog.

The federal government completed an independent review a year ago that found Autopilot reduces crash rates by 40 percent, Tesla said in the blog post. They did not specifically name the review.

On Tuesday, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators responded to the scene of the fatal crash on the split between Highway 101 and state Highway 85.

The NTSB will be studying whether the Tesla had Autopilot active, as well as details of the post-crash fire and steps to make vehicle removals safe for those on scene, Holloway said.

It took approximately five hours to reopen the lanes where the crash took place Friday as Tesla engineers investigated the scene, making sure that loading the vehicles onto tow trucks would be safe.

— Melissa Hartman, Bay City News

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