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Tesla Driver Death Investigated After Musk Lashes Out Over Coverage

James Kraus, Dana Hull
Tesla Model S electric automobiles stand on display inside a Tesla Motors Inc. showroom in Paris, France, on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. After losing $1.88 billion since 2007, Tesla is piling on the personnel as it offers more models, builds the world's biggest battery factory and expands globally, including stores opening in Mexico City and Edinburgh. Photographer: Jasper Juinen

Another fatal crash involving a Tesla Inc. electric car is under scrutiny following Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s latest lashing-out over media coverage of his electric-car maker.

Police in southern Switzerland are investigating the death of a German man whose Tesla crashed into a guardrail and burst into flames last week, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Bloomberg News reached a representative of the Bellinzona police who said no one is available to provide details on the incident until Wednesday morning.

“We are deeply saddened by this accident, and we are working to establish the facts of the incident and offer our full cooperation to local authorities,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Tesla has not yet received any data from the car and thus does not know the facts of what occurred, although it appeared to be a high-speed collision.”

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Musk, 46, sent a series of tweets Monday criticizing journalists for not reporting that Tesla makes what he says is the safest car on the road. He reiterated that the company will begin reporting safety-related data on a quarterly basis, starting after the three months ending in June.

“It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage,” Musk wrote, referring to coverage of a Tesla crash in Utah.

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The Utah driver told the AP that Tesla’s driver-assistance system Autopilot was engaged when she slammed into a fire truck at about 60 miles per hour. The company hasn’t yet received data from the car and doesn’t know whether Autopilot was engaged, according to a spokeswoman.

U.S. Investigations

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is actively investigating four Tesla vehicle crashes, two of which involve drivers who were using Autopilot.

“It certainly needs to be better & we work to improve it every day, but perfect is enemy of good,” Musk tweeted Monday in reference to Autopilot. “A system that, on balance, saves lives & reduces injuries should be released.”

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Musk has a history of criticizing media coverage of Autopilot in stark terms. Months after an Ohio man died using the system in April 2016 on a Florida highway, Tesla hosted a conference call with reporters to announce that the company was introducing new hardware that it’s said will eventually render its vehicles capable of full self-driving.

‘Killing People’

“If, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using autonomous vehicles, you’re killing people,” Musk told reporters.

Musk made similar comments earlier this month during Tesla’s latest earnings call. He said autonomous-vehicle systems won’t reduce crash or fatality rates to zero, though he claimed that current technology reduces the probability of deaths by half.

“It’s really incredibly irresponsible of any journalists with integrity to write an article that would lead people to believe that Tesla autonomy is less safe,” Musk said. “Because people might actually turn it off, and then die. So anyway, I’m really upset by this.”

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