Tesla rams into SUV, California owner says it was 'unintended acceleration'

A Tesla rammed into the back of a Hyundai in Menlo Park earlier this month, and its owner swears he didn't hit the gas or do anything wrong.

Neil Salem provided video showing what happened. He said it was a case of sudden "unintended acceleration," which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating – again – in June. 

The issue – where drivers allege the Tesla speeds up all on its own –  has been reported since 2020, when Tesla issued a formal statement insisting that there is no such thing. 

But Salem disputes Tesla's claims. He said he "experienced firsthand what I used to dismiss as fiction or driver error."

As Salem tells it, he was driving his 2017 Tesla on Aug. 1 westbound on Willow Road in Menlo Park. A white Hyundai Genisis SUV was driving in front of him.

While he was waiting for the light to turn green at Durham Street and Willow Road, Salem said his Tesla began to move forward, on its own, at a speed quicker than a crawl, even though that feature was turned off. 

Salem said he quickly stepped on the brakes to avoid hitting the Hyundai, and luckily, he was able to stop within inches of hitting the other car.

The light turned green, and he began to drive, cautiously, still trailing behind the same Hyundai.

Then again, at the intersection of Gilbert Avenue and Willow Road, he tried to slow down for the stop light, eight feet behind the Hyundai.

But the Tesla "suddenly engaged the accelerator at full throttle" and struck the SUV, Salem said, showing what happened in a 14-second video. 

His Tesla not only smacked into the other car, but Salem said it continued accelerating and pushing the SUV father into the intersection. It was a forceful enough impact that his airbags deployed. 

"Thankfully nobody was hurt," Salem said. "Although repair estimates are pending, this collision will likely result in a total loss."

Salem said the Hyundai driver's initial reaction was, "Why did you continue pushing my car after colliding?"

Salem explained that it seemed to be the Tesla's fault, and at that point, the other driver was sympathetic.

"He understood I was not trying to assassinate him by pushing his car into the middle of the intersection," Salem said wryly. 

Salem isn't the only Tesla driver in the Bay Area with "unintended acceleration" complaints.

Greg Wester of San Francisco said that happened to him, too, when he was driving up to a valet station. 

His Tesla jumped forward 5 to 10 feet, he said, scaring his passenger. 

Wester had other issues too, including "phantom braking" while using Tesla's Autopilot technology. He filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in August 2022 about that. 

Wester wants the problems fixed and in the meantime, he wants a refund on all the technology that doesn't work. 

"It's a serious safety flaw," Wester said.  

Salem, who said he's been a Tesla fan for years, is among the hundreds of Tesla owners who are part of a class-action lawsuit, saying the accidents they are involved in are the result of the unintended acceleration. 

127 similar claims by Tesla drivers over the years resulted in NHTSA's investigation. 

In 2021, NHTSA found "peddle misapplication" was the problem, where the driver stepped on the accelerator, not the break. 

Experts such as Doctor Fred Barez, a San Jose State University engineer who works and designs electric vehicles, said driver error or confusion is almost always the cause.

But he said in some cases, there's a possibility it's the car that is in question. 

"There could be a build-up of what’s called electromagnetic forces. So when you are, just like when you charge your vehicle, there is potential that still exists in the electric motor that may propel that. But that’s going to be very rare, in my opinion," said Barez. "Just like the airplanes, the 737 and all that, there’s a black box. So Tesla can actually keep track of the actions that were taken by the driver."

Barez said he still likes Teslas and thinks it's a rare thing and that the problem is fixable. 

KTVU's Jesse Gary contributed to this report.