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Laguna Beach will spend $60,000 to replace police SUV hit by a Tesla on Autopilot

Laguna Beach will spend $60,000 to replace police SUV hit by a Tesla on Autopilot
A Tesla sedan in Autopilot mode struck a parked Laguna Beach Police Department vehicle May 29. (Courtesy of Laguna Beach Police Department)

Laguna Beach will spend more than $60,000 to replace a police vehicle that was totaled last month when hit by a Tesla sedan operating in Autopilot mode.

The City Council approved the expenditure Tuesday night.

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Officials said a Laguna Beach police officer exited a police SUV while responding to a call at the Alternative Sleeping Location along Laguna Canyon Road around 11 a.m. May 29. Moments later, the Tesla hit the officer’s 2016 Ford Interceptor. The crash damaged both axles on the Ford and severely damaged the frame, officials said. The officer was not injured.

The Tesla had a person in the driver’s seat but was operating on Autopilot, a driver-assist feature that representatives of the Palo Alto-based carmaker said does not necessarily make the electric vehicles “impervious to all accidents.”

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The Tesla’s driver suffered minor injuries but declined to go to a hospital, authorities said.

City officials said the Interceptor had 51,000 miles on it, was routinely used and was one of the department’s newer vehicles.

Laguna officials asked the council to immediately replace the vehicle as they seek compensation from the driver’s insurance company. They sent requests for bids for a 2018 Interceptor to six Southern California dealerships, with the lowest bid of $33,023 coming from Santa Margarita Ford in Rancho Santa Margarita. Three of the dealerships didn’t respond.

The council also approved spending $27,000 to replace damaged equipment that was in the SUV, including a camera system, a mobile data tablet, a metal lockbox container and interior lighting and wiring.

The $60,023 total will come from a city vehicle replacement fund.

Tesla’s Autopilot mode has faced scrutiny in recent years, with several reported accidents.

“Before a driver can use Autopilot, they must accept a dialogue box which states that Autopilot is designed for use on highways that have a center divider and clear lane markings,” a Tesla representative told the Los Angeles Times last month after the Laguna Beach crash.

Laguna police Sgt. Jim Cota told The Times that a Tesla ran into a semi-truck in that area in 2017.

“Why do these vehicles keep doing that?” Cota said. “We’re just lucky that people aren’t getting injured.”

Tesla delivered updates to its Autopilot system last week that it says will warn drivers quicker and with audible alerts to put their hands on the steering wheel, according to Consumer Reports. The magazine’s testers found it to be an “incremental improvement” but warned that “allowing long intervals of hands-free driving is a mixed message that invites misuse,” the magazine reported.

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