The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Lompoc, CA retirees Mary Lou Seelandt, 66, and her husband, Karl Seelandt, 67. The couple died July 6 at a Florida rest stop after their 2015 Tesla plowed into the rear of a parked semi.
Based on the Florida Highway Patrol’s report on the crash, the couple was driving south around 2 p.m. on Interstate 75 when they exited at a rest stop. The exit lane forked, with cars directed one way and trucks the other. The Seelandt’s Tesla swerved in the wrong direction, toward the trucks — where it rammed into a parked trailer. The couple was killed at the scene.
Investigators told local media they weren’t certain that the Tesla’s autopilot was engaged when the vehicle struck the semi, but on July 13 the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Seelandt family had retained the services of Morgan & Morgan, which touts itself as “America’s largest injury law firm.” The firm also has a page dedicated entirely to Tesla Self-Driving Car Accidents, which says in part that “self-driving Teslas have been involved in several deadly accidents over the past few years, raising questions about Autopilot’s safety, Tesla’s marketing language, and the discrepancy between the two.”
Attorneys Mike Morgan and Josh Moore told the Sentinel that they are “in the very early stages of our investigation to determine what caused this deadly collision and have requested Tesla preserve all evidence related to this matter.”
In June this year, the NHTSA published a report on its “Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.” This order, issued in June 2021, required “identified manufacturers and operators … to report to the agency certain crashes involving vehicles equipped with SAE Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).”
According to the NHTSA, 367 crashes occurred between July 2021 and May this year in vehicles equipped with some form of autopilot software. During that period, California had more than any other state — 125. The top carmakers on this unfortunate list were Tesla, with 273 crashes, then Honda and Subaru, respectively. Fortunately, most injuries from these crashes were minor, though there were five recorded serious injuries and six recorded deaths.
California-based EV maker Lucid Motors only listed one autopilot-related accident, and Irvine’s Rivian wasn’t on the list at all.The United States averages around 6 million car crashes a year, so 367 possibly autopilot-related wrecks seem vanishingly small by comparison. But as companies continue testing self-driving vehicles on California roads, precision and predictability seem more important than ever. dot.la has reached out to the NHTSA for further comment on the agency's investigations and will update once we receive a response.
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