Twin Cities man’s Tesla rolls into marsh; he blames autopilot feature

A Twin Cities man whose Tesla overturned in a central Minnesota marsh is blaming the crash on the luxury electric car’s “autopilot” feature, according to authorities.

David Clark, 58, of Eden Prairie, said he was driving Saturday evening before sunset on a country road 18 miles northeast of Willmar, when the car “suddenly accelerated” and overturned in the marsh, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Sunday.

Clark and four adults in the vehicle were slightly hurt.

A statement from Tesla issued Monday cast doubt on the driver’s contention, saying, the company has “no reason to believe [the autopilot feature] worked other than as designed.”

The crash occurred after “Clark … engaged the autopilot feature,” sending the car off eastbound 172nd Avenue NE. and rolling into the marsh, the Sheriff’s Office statement continued.

Deputies arrived at the scene to find to find the Tesla on its roof.

In May 2016, a motorist near Gainesville, Fla., was killed when his Tesla collided with a semitrailer truck while in the self-driving mode. The crash brought intense scrutiny on the technology and whether the car’s manufacturer, based in Palo Alto, Calif., overstated the capability of the autopilot feature.

Federal investigators reviewed the crash and chose not to impose a recall, concluding there was no safety defect involved in the crash.

At the same time, regulators in January warned the vehicle’s operators to not treat the semiautonomous cars as if they are fully self-driving.

The autopilot feature uses cameras, radar and computers to detect objects and automatically brake if the car is about to hit something. It also can steer the car to keep it centered in its lane.

In a statement issued Monday, Tesla said it is “working to establish the facts of the incident and have offered our full cooperation to the local authorities. We have not yet established whether the vehicle’s autopilot feature was activated and have no reason to believe [it] worked other than as designed.”

Other “sudden acceleration” crashes have been attributed by motorists to the autopilot technology. Electrek, an industry website that focuses on alternative transportation advances, has reported that data logs from the vehicles have often revealed that the drivers were actually responsible.

Tesla’s statement responding to the Minnesota crash emphasized that whenever drivers activate the autopilot, “they are reminded of their responsibility to remain engaged and to be prepared to take immediate action at all times, and drivers must acknowledge their responsibility to do so before autopilot is enabled.”

The Star Tribune has left messages with Clark seeking further details on his actions leading up to the crash.

A federal lawsuit filed in California seeks class-action status for other claims of sudden acceleration made by Tesla motorists in various states.