Tesla safety at core of Korean deadly crash trial

STORY: A criminal trial over a deadly Tesla crash in South Korea two years ago has thrown the safety of the company’s cars - and a trade deal with the United States - in the spotlight.

The case is soon set to open for the Tesla’s driver, charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors say Choi Woan-jong floored the white Model X’s accelerator as he entered the garage of a Seoul apartment building, hitting 60mph, or 95 kph, before crashing.

But 61-year-old Choi claims, it was the Tesla that caused the December 2020 crash.

“It felt like the car was being swept away by something. Then it suddenly accelerated so I was shocked hit the brake. But it was out of control, so I hit the brake again.”

Choi said the car's side mirrors began folding in and out unprompted, just before the car sped up on its own.

And - that the brakes failed.

The impact left the passenger dead.

Choi had been a driver for some 20 years and says he had driven Teslas before.

His case has drawn the attention of some safety advocates in South Korea, who are pointing fingers at a free trade agreement with the United States.

They want to change a provision in the deal that exempts Tesla from local safety standards.

For instance, Tesla is not required to follow South Korean regulations relating to mechanical failsafes for its doors.

These would allow them to be opened even if the car does not have electrical power.

This was one of the issues cited by a fire department investigation as slowing rescuers’ ability to reach the passenger.

Another issue angering safety campaigners is that Tesla is the only automaker that does not provide data to the Korea Transportation Safety Authority from onboard diagnostic systems for safety checks in the country.

Lawmaker Park Sang-hyuk told Reuters, because there’s no data given to local regulators, they can only do safety checks of Teslas by the naked eye.

“That is a very outdated inspection method, especially when you think of Tesla’s innovative technologies," he said.

The transport safety agency says Tesla is not legally required to provide such data.

But added that all other foreign and domestic carmakers are doing so.

Tesla and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not respond to requests for comment.