Did Tesla's Autopilot Cause the Tragic Harju County Crash, or Was It Human Error?

Andres Einmann
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
The scene at the accident site suggests that the Tesla's speed was very high at the moment of the collision.
The scene at the accident site suggests that the Tesla's speed was very high at the moment of the collision. Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

On Sunday evening, a Tesla Model X crashed at high speed into the back of a truck trailer on the Tallinn-Tartu highway in Harju County. The collision was so severe that the woman driving the car died at the scene. Given that Tesla is known for its highly developed autopilot system, the question arises whether the accident was caused by human error or a failure of the driver assistance system.

Teslas can operate with an autopilot system that reads traffic signs, regulates speed, and maintains lane and distance control. While driving on autopilot, the Tesla checks every 30 seconds to ensure the driver is awake, and if the driver doesn't place their hands on the wheel as instructed, the vehicle issues a loud warning signal. If the driver still does not take control, the car will slow down and come to a stop.

Tesla's driver assistance systems are designed to minimize the likelihood of traffic accidents. If the Tesla detects a hazardous situation, the emergency brake is activated. However, the driver can override the emergency brake by pressing the gas pedal firmly. According to Kristjan Liiva, sales manager at Tesla dealer First EV, this could be one possible reason for the accident. Liiva does not consider it likely that the emergency brake simply did not activate.

He told Postimees that Tesla has six cameras around the car that provide a 360-degree view of the surroundings. «Tesla has a memory stick that records the data from these cameras. However, recording can be manually disabled, and the memory stick can be removed from the car altogether,» noted Liiva.

He added that some driving information should also be recorded by servers, as the cars are connected to them, but he could not specify to what extent or at what intervals the servers store this information. For this, one should likely contact a Tesla representative. In Estonia, only Tesla dealers operate, and the nearest representative office is in Finland.

Police investigators trying to determine the causes of the accident are attempting to find the chip that stores driving data from the car wreck, but according to Police and Border Guard Board spokesperson Barbara Lichtfeldt, it had not been found as of Wednesday. The police have contacted Tesla for driving data.

As of Wednesday, it was still unclear whether the 37-year-old woman behind the wheel was sober at the time of the accident, this will be determined by an expert examination. The severe accident occurred on Sunday evening after 7 PM at the 16th kilometer of the Tallinn-Tartu highway when the 2023 Tesla Model X driven by the 37-year-old woman crashed into the back of a truck trailer. The 25-year-old man driving the truck was sober and had a valid driver's license. The investigation will determine the speed of both vehicles at the time of the accident.