This Truck Design Could’ve Prevented Tesla Model S Autopilot Fatality


Krone Safeliner

Krone Safeliner

Following the fatal Tesla Model S crash in which the driver was tragically killed after smashing into the side of a tractor-trailer, Krone, inventors of the Safeliner truck, made it known that the technology exists to prevent these types of accidents.

As BGR reports:

“…according to one report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 15% of “large truck fatalities involved passenger cars striking the sides of either the tractor or trailer.”

“And addressing instances in which a car goes underneath a trailer, the NHTSA adds: “Side underride collisions are an important safety problem because they defeat crumple zones and prevent air bag deployment, both vital safety advances in improving protection of passenger vehicle occupants during crashes.”

According to Krone, side under-ride guards are easily fitted to trailers, yet they aren’t required by U.S. law. And most trailers that do have guards, have improper ones that don’t absorb impact well and/or don’t protect the occupant of the car/truck that hits the trailer.

Krone’s solution in the Safeliner truck is designed to prevent a car form going underneath a truck, while at the same time absorbing the impact from the collision.

Furthermore, Tesla’s Auotpilot system may have “seen” the truck were it equipped with the Safeliner setup.

This type of truck design has been available for a long time and is common in Europe, yet here in the U.S. it’s not required in most states. Perhaps some good will come from this Tesla fatality though, in that the NHTSA will determine that under-ride guards are necessary for all tractor-trailers operated in the U.S.

You’ll find video of trucks equipped with under-ride guards at this (not embeddable) link.

Source: BGR

Categories: Tesla

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64 Comments on "This Truck Design Could’ve Prevented Tesla Model S Autopilot Fatality"

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The IIHS did a study recently showing that most of the REAR barriers that are required are inadequate. Combine that with the non existent side barriers and I’m surprised that are not more fatalities in general with this type of collision.

…”from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 15% of “large truck fatalities involved passenger cars striking the sides of either the tractor or trailer.”. So there were such fatalities, but until now, there hadn’t such fatalities with Tesla cars…so not worth for going to news headlines and not worth, as they concerned fatalities involving oil fueled cars…, to Senate or NHTSA doing something to correct this…

This problem has been known for decades, yet the U.S. government can’t pass a simple regulation. This level of negligence is almost criminal. Europe has had this safety feature for a long time, and it works. No reason the U.S. can’t do the same.

Businesses will scream that it costs more. Nothing new about that. But the cost is small compared to what the death and destruction of these accidents cost our society.

…and right there you’ve identified what is more important to US regulators; ‘business’ over ‘society’.

But if designed correctly they could provide aerodynamic benefit helping to offset the cost.

I agree! And I’m not even sure it’s just “almost” criminal. It would not actually be the first time if a court of law were to rule the government has failed to fulfill its duty to protect citizens.

I know, isn’t it astonishing? What he have now goes beyond regulatory capture into full-on government capture. And with the news media owned and operated by corporations, when people are given a choice in an election they actually vote against their own interests! People are so conditioned to identify the left/right bias in news that they totally miss the elephant in the room: servitude to short-term corporate interests. I’ve noticed that most of the local building codes now seem to be written by manufacturers. Some new product hits the market and it’s guaranteed success if the maker can get it codified into building codes. And it’s a win/win because then people get angry about “too much gov regulation” and oppose ALL regulations, so politicians can posture as supporting their constituents when they oppose good regulations (while quietly voting for all the bad regulations). Sorry for the rant but it’s really frustrating to see people beheaded while driving because a simple common sense regulation cannot be put in place. I’ll bet that the aerodynamic benefits would offset the cost and then some, but of course that’s beyond the next quarter horizon that is the limit of vision for most US corporations.

The people who have died don’t have lobbyists in their pockets. If they did, the laws would change much faster.

Paint is cheaper.
According to Tesla, the trailer being white was the problem. Just require they all be painted orange or school bus yellow so Tesla’s can “see” them.

Did you read the article?
There happens many accident there this would protect passenger wish is the reason all track in Europe must have it, it’s not only this accident wich would be saved by getting this.


And yet, requiring trailers to be high visibility may also be a good idea!

That paint is far too expensive!

The poor trucking companies just can’t afford it.

Visible pain schemes are certainly a good idea, but…

The visibility problem is worst with Tesla’s autonomous beta software.

So yeah,if we ever get a regulation in place for trailer side rails, let’s include some color scheme requirements as well. But let’s not blame the color white for this particular accident. The driver shouldn’t have given Autopilot full control, and Tesla shouldn’t put people’s lives at risk with alpha software.

“…Tesla shouldn’t put people’s lives at risk with alpha software.”

If Autopilot/AutoSteer (Beta) saves more lives than it costs, then I think nearly every reasonable person would disagree with you.

How do you know it saves more lives than it costs? Are you basing that on Tesla’s facile comparison between Tesla’s Autopilot miles and the total miles on other cars? Because you should realize that Autopilot miles are racked up in the safest of driving conditions and thus aren’t comparable to the total miles driven by other cars.

What is on tractor trailers that cannot be moved just as quickly by rail? In another direction, with the many engineers, innovators, and inventors in modern times is it asking too much for inventions that would reduce automobile risks 100x or more?

The modern auto accident is a horribly brutish way to go out. Not to mention when you survive.

*** the industry. It is not their right. It is only their privilege, one which must be easily revoked. If they insist on allowing such transport then: more regulations such as cited in story; limited speeds such as 45 highway, 10-20 non highway. Then again all vehicles ought to be operated at much lower speed. Until rail like vehicle come out, that is, autonomous features which basically mimic a rail car. Then the non-rail vehicles will have incentive to purchase rail upgrades or newer compliant vehicles. If roadways are going to be the future then really every single blacktop road should implement a rail system.

In a different direction when vehicles operate above the non-IoT obstacles of the ground level (e.g. trees, babies, pets, fallen branches and everything that falls which is arguably most things in the large majority of cases) you can pretty much operate given a simple collision avoidance algorithm with the minor trifles of birds, insects, storms, and so on. This will be a much more efficient mode of transportation. For starters, say goodbye to roads, improving the environment, reducing costs, adding highly effective (eg $ per sq ft) ground level space.

At this level your vehicle will interact with for the most part other IoT-enabled objects.
When a plethora and excesses of renewable energy arrives this mode of transport will become hugely inexpensive.
In the meantime let us consider renewably charged battery depots every few highway miles. If we choose roadway transport, that is. These are InstaSwap(tm) batteries which can be swapped without the need to even reduce vehicle speed. There are three to five common battery form factors. At any time an operator may choose to take on a long-distance battery load, for example to travel outside the network. In the majority of cases the battery load taken on will be only what is necessary to arrive at the next InstaSwap(tm) way point (generally only 1-2 miles as previously specified). Hence, a large transport vehicle might require only the equivalent of a 1-2 kwh battery pack per swap.
Then again you can also consider a lightrail type approach…

Jacked Beanstalk said:

“How do you know it saves more lives than it costs?”

I don’t know, and neither do you. That’s why I started my statement with “if”. And unlike you, I’m not talking out of my arse claiming to know something I don’t.

If Tesla cars can’t “see” large objects painted white, the problem isn’t going to be solved by repainting 18-wheeler trailers. There are a lot of other large objects in the world painted white, too.

The problem is going to be solved by Tesla improving its in-car sensor system to use longer-ranged active sensors (radar or lidar) instead of passive sensors (video camera images) and very short-ranged radar and sonar.

No, the problem is trucks pulling out in front of traffic and road design that allows it.

Yes that is just terrible. The road planner should have some of the blame here.

Don’t let the road construction crew off the hook so easily! They might have used asphalt of the wrong shade of black and it confused Autopilot!

Dennis Mathias

“No, the problem is trucks pulling out in front of traffic and road design that allows it.”

You’re suggesting there’s a practical way to eliminate left turn lanes?

Good luck with that. We can’t afford to turn every road into a limited access freeway, or even most of them.

Personally, when I see a big *ss truck turning in front of me, I slow down and drive defensively.

But hey, that’s just me. I drove up learning to drive in the era of personal responsibility….

…and you will never hit a deer either? Even the best drivers will get caught by other bad drivers occasionally.

Yep. And even the best drivers can get hit by a Tesla on Autopilot.

You are a Troll.

Typical Tesla Fanboy: calls anyone who criticizes any facet of Tesla names.

If the hob-nailed boot fits, wear it. In your case it fits.

Because I’m critical of Tesla’s Autopilot?

That’s a pretty interesting definition of “troll” you have there.


Jacked Beanstalk said:

“…even the best drivers can get hit by a Tesla on Autopilot.”

Well, I’ve been wondering whether or not you belong on the short list of anti-Tesla trolls here. You just answered that question most definitively.

Yeah, I’m not anti-Tesla by a long shot. If they ever get their reliability problems under control then I’d buy a Model 3 for sure.

You know Tesla don’t force all their drivers to use Autopilot, right?

There is a difference between expressing an honestly held negative opinion, and posting FUD. When you post “…even the best drivers can get hit by a Tesla on Autopilot” …then you’ve crossed the line.

And please note that I’m not the only one who thinks so. You got no less than three “you’re a troll” reactions to that.

If you don’t want to get a reputation here as a troll, then please consider how your words will come across to others before you post.


Deers can be bad drivers. Last year my wife hit a deer who came out of nowhere. My wife, an excellent drive with no prior accidents, could not avoid hitting the deer. The police investigation found the deer to be completely at fault.

OMG, Deer are driving cars now???

We’re doomed! Their hooves can’t operate touch screens! 😉

What about being at a stoplight, in the left hand lane, when a semi on the right is turning left across your front and he rolls his rear trailer tires over your car?

Side impact barriers would also keep your car from being crushed.

> I drove up learning to drive in the era of personal responsibility….

Good, I can feel your anger.

“This type of truck design has been available for a long time and is common in Europe”
Nope – you won’t see a truck without this design, and have not for about 20 years.

That was a confusing reply. Do you mean you agree or you don’t agree?

In the UK at least all trucks have a barrier under the trainer though it’s usually just a horizontal bar rather than a panel. Still enough to prevent it taking the top off a car.

Just realized you are agreeing and disagreeing. They’re not just common but every single truck is like that. Got it.

That would also probably help the aerodynamics. Win-win!

It certainly could be designed to do both – much better safety and much better aerodynamics would mean it would pay for itself, even if it was never needed for safety.

Having the guards on the bottom is one thing and would help to prevent fatalities in any accident, with or without autopilot, but I think the article title is misleading. The fault is not the truck’s because it didn’t have this, nor is it the government’s for not imposing the regulation, the fault is on either the autopilot system or on the driver of the model S or both. Trucks to not to need to be modified to make autopilot more effective, the autopilot system needs to be improved to identify the trucks more easily.

It probably would have helped if the truck driver didn’t turn in front of an oncoming car. That and the speed of the Tesla driver caused this accident. Autopilot was a minor factor.

Agreed! +1. Driver not paying attention.

Yes, there were several major contributing factors making this a fatal accident. Removing any one would likely have allowed the Tesla car driver to survive.

But it’s silly to claim that every vehicle on the road should be modified so Tesla cars can “see” them more clearly. It’s Tesla’s sensor system which needs to be modified and improved, not every other vehicle on the road. And of course it will be; Tesla’s Autopilot hardware and software are constantly evolving. That will happen a lot faster than any government mandate to re-paint or install safety bars on every 18-wheeler trailer on the road.

As has been said, safety bars underneath such trailers are a good idea, and possibly should be mandated by law. But not merely because of one, or even a few, fatal accidents in Tesla cars. Tesla’s semi-self-driving cars need to be able to interact with the world the way it is. We can’t re-order the entire world just for semi-self-driving cars, let alone just Tesla semi-self-driving cars.

Of course physics plays a part. If a truck pulls out in front of you and you’re going 75mph, unless you have at least an american football field length in front of you, you’re going to collide. Simple physics. (Actually 500 feet including reacting time)

Dennis, thank you for so clearly pointing out what far too many people posting on this subject are completely ignoring.

Has anyone menithe exact speed limit at that point in the road? If Tesla says their Autopilot is allowed to operate at speeds up to 5 MPH above posted speeds, but users have figured out ways to bypass those limits, then, to do excessive speed while ‘on Autopilot’, would be an act of defiance, willfully voiding any safety devise on a vehicle, being illegal modification, void criminal neglegence on the part of the Maker, and accept all such liability on the driver! Speed all you want, on any road you want, but be willing to be Adult Enough to accept the consequences personally, with full responsibilty, or give up speeding as a way of live, or habit! If I remember this story, we were told the Tesla was driving at 85 MPH, which should sugges that this road had a posted speed limit if 80 MPH! This I doubt, as there are few such US speed limits, and those I know of are on Full Freeways, nit these types of roads, which usually post limits of 60 MPH, tops! So, how is it that ‘Autopilot’ was the driver here, when this Tesla was alleged to be doing 85 MPH? Even… Read more »
Robert Weekley said: “If Tesla says their Autopilot is allowed to operate at speeds up to 5 MPH above posted speeds, but users have figured out ways to bypass those limits…” Tesla says AutoSteer is intended for use only on divided roads. Nevertheless they allow its use on non-divided roads, but in such case limit use to no more than 5 MPH above the posted speed limit. But in the accident in question, the Model S car was driving on a divided road… albeit one with cross-traffic. So, a divided road but not a limited access highway. Therefore, at least in theory, the “5 MPH over the speed limit” limitation of AutoSteer would not apply. “So, first casualties here, were personal responsabily – Tesla, failing to follow the speed limit! Trucker, failing to check properly for traffic, and yield the Right of Way. Combination = Deadly Results.” Yup. If reports are true, if the Model S driver was excessively speeding (not a verified fact, just alleged), then both drivers were at fault, and it’s crazy that some are trying to blame Tesla Autopilot for the accident. Talk about refusing to accept personal responsibility! No, the victim can’t possibly be at… Read more »

This link says side guards have been required in Europe since the 80’s, not just ‘common’. Nobody’s commented on added weight, which is a larger impact to revenue than the cost of bad aero on a semi.
Seems someone would build a truss-framed trailer that’s lighter, safer, and more aero without the expense of a fully composite or aluminum trailer.

“Tesla’s Auotpilot system may have “seen” the truck were it equipped with the Safeliner setup.”

Probably not. The vendor for their camera system says that detecting stationary objects will not be available until 2018. My ELR also cannot detect stationary objects at speed. “Stationary objects” are ones that are not traveling in the same direction as the follow car plus some speed above zero.
Plus, AEB only works below 40mph sometimes lower than that depending on the design.

At the risk of making a “Captain Obvious” comment: A collision avoidance system which can’t detect stationary objects would seem to be of somewhat limited usefulness.

These semi-autonomous driving systems should come with very clear warning labels, such as:


Of course that’s not always true for Tesla Autopilot, but some variation on that warning might help a lot with those idiots who have made a habit of taking their eyes off the road and letting Tesla AutoSteer do their driving for them. And also all those people posting comments asking “Why didn’t Tesla Autopilot stop the car from running into the side of a building in a parking lot?”

Of course, such clear warnings are completely contrary to the aims of an auto maker’s marketing department, so that sort of thing will likely have to be mandated on all auto makers by government regulation.

What? Mine does. If a car is stopped in front of me, radar detects it and stops the vehicle at an appropriate distance.

I presume at least one or more cars are equipped with an automatic braking system that will indeed “see” stationary obstacles and brake to avoid them. In fact, there’s a commercial currently running on TV that shows one car doing exactly that; a “crash test” in which the car stops instead of crashing.

I strongly suspect, though, that there is a very wide gulf, a canyon, between “Sometimes will detect an obstacle or an impending collision, and brake to avoid an accident” and “Will reliably brake to avoid an accident in nearly all cases.” From various comments posted to InsideEVs, it seems far to many people think that if the car can ever brake to avoid an accident, then we should expect it to do so in all cases. Presumably none of those posting such comments have any familiarity with computer programming.

There is also the matter of false positives. How many times will such a system brake when there is no danger, before you shut it off in annoyance?

I read on another site that their are 250 deaths per year in the US due to cars driving under semis…

As stated above in has been law in EU for years and best of all in Jays link above it says side skirts would save drivers 5k a year in fuel…
It is amazing the multiple times over the years I have seen companies come out whith conceptual tractor and trailer designs to save gobs of fuel but the ones on the road are largely unchanged since the 70s…

How this is not a law in the US…
Furthermore why do cars still have physical side mirros either…
Hopefully Elon takes them to task on this since Congress summoned Tesla about their one fatility…

“It is amazing the multiple times over the years I have seen companies come out whith conceptual tractor and trailer designs to save gobs of fuel but the ones on the road are largely unchanged since the 70s…”

The truth you do speak! It’s like semi-tractor trailers got stuck in a 70s time loop and cannot ever change. Whenever the driver’s door cracks open on one of ’em I half-expect to see a dude in bell-bottoms step out and offer to sell me some ‘ludes.

We are so worried about terrorism in U.S., but requiring this system on all trailers is a bridge too far. I’m positive Tesla will find a solution to their autopilot not detecting the semi truck but doubtful those trucks will be fixed.

Why is it a “bridge too far” when it saves burning filthy DIESEL FUEL, and SAVES LIVES? And saving people in a two-stage manner: by preventing collisions and reducing deaths afterwards.

WTF is wrong with you?

Do you make every decision based on gut emotion, in instead of facts and common sense?

The actress Jane Mansfield died in a similar crash, except it was into the back of the truck. (no her car didn’t have autopilot)

But it is important to note, that after the crash, trucks now have “Mansfield Bars” in the back to prevent a car from going under.

It’s not unreasonable to expect some manner of conspicuity device under the side of a truck. And who knows, properly designed, it could improve the fuel economy of the trucks, and who wouldn’t want that?

Hang on, am I right in believing that the safety conscious America, that made SO MANY pretty European cars turn ugly due to the iron girder it insisted on fitting to them, allows articulated trailers to be driven around with NO SIDE IMPACT PROTECTION?