The school bus was displaying its stop sign and flashing red warning lights, a police report said, when Tillman Mitchell, 17, stepped off one afternoon in March. Then a Tesla Model Y approached on North Carolina Highway 561.
The car — allegedly in Autopilot mode — never slowed down.
It struck Mitchell at 45 mph. The teenager was thrown into the windshield, flew into the air and landed face down in the road, according to his great-aunt, Dorothy Lynch. Mitchell’s father heard the crash and rushed from his porch to find his son lying in the middle of the road.
“If it had been a smaller child,” Lynch said, “the child would be dead.”
The crash in North Carolina’s Halifax County, where a futuristic technology came barreling down a rural highway with devastating consequences, was one of 736 U.S. crashes since 2019 involving Teslas in Autopilot mode — far more than previously reported, according to a Washington Post analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. The number of such crashes has surged over the past four years, the data shows, reflecting the hazards associated with increasingly widespread use of Tesla’s futuristic driver-assistance technology as well as the growing presence of the cars on the nation’s roadways.
The number of deaths and serious injuries associated with Autopilot also has grown significantly, the data shows. When authorities first released a partial accounting of accidents involving Autopilot in June 2022, they counted only three deaths definitively linked to the technology. The most recent data includes at least 17 fatal incidents, 11 of them since last May, and five serious injuries.