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Another Tesla crash blamed on car's Autopilot system

A Model X crashes Sunday morning after the car's auto-steer feature fails to identify an obstacle in the road, according to a thread on a Tesla enthusiasts forum.

Another Tesla vehicle has crashed while allegedly under the control of the car's Autopilot system, the third crash reported in the past two weeks to be linked to the self-driving feature.

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This Model X was damaged after a crash that allegedly occurred with Autopilot engaged.

Tesla Motors Club

The most recent crash involved a Model X near the small town of Whitehall, Montana, on Sunday morning, according to the Detroit Free Press. Neither the driver nor the passenger was injured in the single-vehicle crash, the Montana Highway Patrol told the newspaper.

Autopilot comprises a suite of features on the Model S sedan and Model X SUV that use radar and cameras to steer the car in its lane and automatically match speeds of slower traffic ahead. The system can also automatically change lanes when the driver hits the turn signal.

The car failed to detect an obstacle in the road, according to a thread posted on the Tesla Motors Club forum by someone who said they're a friend of the driver. The thread included photos showing the damage to the vehicle.

"Autopilot did not detect a wood stake on the road, hit more than 20 wood stakes, tire on front passenger side and lights flyed [sic] away," wrote the friend, who goes by the username Eresan. "The speed limit is 55, he was driving 60 on autopilot. His car is completely destroyed."

Tesla said Tuesday that it appears the driver in the crash was using the system improperly.

"The data suggests that the driver's hands were not on the steering wheel, as no force was detected on the steering wheel for over 2 minutes after autosteer was engaged (even a very small amount of force, such as one hand resting on the wheel, will be detected)," a Tesla spokesman said in a statement. "This is contrary to the terms of use that are agreed to when enabling the feature and the notification presented in the instrument cluster each time it is activated.

"As road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted the driver to put his hands on the wheel. He did not do so and shortly thereafter the vehicle collided with a post on the edge of the roadway," the spokesman said. He added that the Autopilot feature was being used on an undivided mountain road despite being designed for use on a divided highway in slow-moving traffic.

The crash occurred less than two weeks after it was revealed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into a fatal crash of a Tesla Model S in May. That crash claimed the life of Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Tesla enthusiast, after his vehicle's Autopilot system failed to detect a tractor-trailer turning in front of him.

Earlier this month, a Model X, being driven with its Autopilot feature engaged, flipped over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after hitting a guard rail on the right side of the road and rebounding to the median barrier. No one was injured in that crash.

Tesla got some more bad news Monday. The US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the company failed to notify its investors in a timely manner of a fatal crash involving an owner using the Autopilot system. The automaker learned of the NHTSA's investigation into Brown's fatal crash on May 16 but did not inform its investors until after a $2 billion stock sale on May 18-19, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Updated July 12 at 11 a.m. PT to add Tesla statement.