A Tesla owner says his car’s ‘self-driving’ technology failed to detect a moving train ahead of a crash caught on camera

A Tesla owner says his car’s ‘self-driving’ technology failed to detect a moving train ahead of a crash caught on camera

A Tesla vehicle in Full-Self Driving mode appeared to fail to detect a moving train and stop on its own, leading to a chaotic accident depicted in a video that has been viewed millions of times on social media.

The car’s owner and driver, Craig Doty II, told NBC News that he takes responsibility for the accident, but he said he also believes that Tesla’s Self-Driving technology, or at least as it existed in his vehicle, is a defective product.

“I was the only one in the car. I was the only car in the accident. So yes, it was my fault, it had to be,” Doty said. “But I feel it was more that the damn car didn’t recognize the train.”

“You do get complacent that it knows what it’s doing,” he said of the Tesla technology. “And usually it’s more cautious than I would be as a driver.”

The accident occurred on the morning of May 8. Doty, a certified general appraiser in Ohio, was driving at around 60 mph, according to a Tesla crash report. The speed limit on the road was 55 mph, according to Doty and a police report associated with the accident. Drivers can request crash reports from Tesla, which are generated using data individual cars send to Tesla servers. Doty requested a report from the incident and provided it to NBC News, along with video of the crash recorded by the car.

A Tesla with a damaged bumper and front right wheel. (Courtesy Craig Doty II)
A Tesla with a damaged bumper and front right wheel. (Courtesy Craig Doty II)

In the video, the car speeds toward a railroad crossing with a moving train before the car veers suddenly to the right, slamming into a railroad crossing arm and skidding off the road.

According to video from the car and the police report, conditions were foggy, but dashcam video of the crash shows that moving boxcars and the telltale flashing red lights of an active train crossing signal could be seen at least five seconds before the accident.

The accident caused significant damage to the front right side of the car. Pictures taken by Doty show the car’s mangled body and the front right wheel twisted up at a sharp angle.

Doty said that his Tesla failed to slow down as it approached the train and that he slammed on the brakes and took over the car’s steering manually, directing it off the road to avoid the train.

“I was like there’s no way it doesn’t see the train,” he said. “There’s no way it doesn’t see the flashing lights. Yes, it was foggy, but you can still see the lights.”

Full Self-Driving mode, often shortened to FSD, is Tesla’s premium driver assistance option. CEO Elon Musk has promoted it as a crucial part of the company’s future. Tesla says parts of the technology are in beta mode, such as "autosteer," meaning they are still being tested. Tesla sells the product to drivers for $8,000 upfront or $99 per month.

FSD requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel of the vehicle while it steers for them; Tesla refers to the application of the technology as “supervised.” On its website, Tesla says, “Your vehicle will be able to drive itself almost anywhere with minimal driver intervention and will continuously improve.”

The website says farther down on the same page: “The currently enabled Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. Full autonomy will be dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

FSD’s capabilities and its marketing have been the subjects of scrutiny, both in terms of what it is able to do and whether drivers are fully aware that it still requires them to be attentive. In February, Tesla issued a software update to FSD over concerns about issues related to stopping at intersections. Autopilot, which is Tesla’s standard driver assistance option, has also been the subject of probes by regulators.

A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the regulator “is aware of this incident and is gathering more information from the manufacturer.”

Doty said his hands were on the wheel for the duration of the incident. The Tesla-generated crash report he provided to NBC News also shows that the system recognized that his hands were on the wheel just ahead of the accident.

The Tesla report shows that the car maintained a speed of around 60 mph while in Full Self-Driving mode before Doty slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel.

Doty said he had owned the Tesla since last year and had come to rely on its Full Self-Driving mode, which he said took some of the burden out of his long commutes, estimating that he had driven 20,000 miles with the feature activated.

“It’s convenient once you get past the awkwardness of it doing everything for you, doing it most times better than you would or more cautiously,” he said.

But he had at least one similar experience in which, he said, FSD appeared to fail.

Doty said the car nearly hit a moving train in November after it approached some tracks after a sharp turn.

He said that the Tesla did not slow down but that he was able to stop, still hitting the crossbar and damaging his windshield. He said he chalked it up to the intersection’s coming after a turn. Doty provided documentation of his exchanges with a Tesla insurance claims adjuster at the time that included a detailed description of the incident.

After the second train incident, a police officer took a report. The police report said that the car was in a fully autonomous mode at the time of the crash, though Tesla's Full-Self Driving mode is not rated as fully autonomous. It is currently rated as partially autonomous.

The officer also gave Doty a citation for “failure to control” a vehicle, which comes with a $175 fine. In a hearing Thursday, Doty pleaded no contest to the citation, and asked for leniancy, given that the car was in Full Self-Driving mode. Doty said the judge agreed to strike the citation if Doty proved by July that the damages to the rail would be fixed and paid for by Doty or his insurance.

“I think Elon Musk can show up and pay the fine,” he said. “I understand that I am in control of the vehicle, but I don’t go around causing mayhem and getting in wrecks and driving outlandishly out of control.”

After the incident, Doty posted the video of the crash on an online Tesla forum, seeking more information about similar incidents. Someone took the video and posted it on X, and video of the crash has since been viewed millions of times.

Doty said a Tesla Collision Center told him Wednesday that the car was totaled. He said the company has not reached out about the video or the incident.

There have been some indications and previous incidents that have suggested shortcomings of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving mode, many of which have been chronicled online.

In November 2022, a Tesla in Full Self-Driving mode abruptly stopped on a major freeway, according to The Intercept, causing an eight-car pileup. An NHTSA report published last month found dozens of crashes involving Full Self-Driving and noted the company’s December Autopilot-related recall.

“These insufficient controls can lead to foreseeable driver disengagement while driving and avoidable crashes,” the NHTSA wrote in its report.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com