A BMW test car with autonomous steering capability veered into oncoming traffic in Germany, killing one person and seriously injuring nine others, police said Tuesday. A spokesman for police in the southwestern town of Reutlingen said an electric BMW iX with five people on board, including a young child, swerved out of its lane at a bend in the road, triggering a series of collisions involving four vehicles Monday afternoon.
After brushing an oncoming Citroen, the BMW hit a Mercedes-Benz van head-on, resulting in the death of a 33-year-old passenger in that vehicle.
The 70-year-old driver of the Citroen lost control of her car and crashed into another vehicle with two people on board, pushing it off the road and causing it to burst into flames.
Reutlingen police spokesperson Michael Schaal said four rescue helicopters and dozens of firefighters responded to the incident and the injured were taken to several hospitals in the region. They included the 43-year-old driver of the BMW, three adults aged 31, 42 and 47, and a 18-month-old child who were all in the test vehicle.
Schaal said police hadn't yet had an opportunity to interview those involved in the crash.
“The crash vehicle was an autonomous electric test car,” police said in a statement. “Whether it was being steered by the 43-year-old (driver) or not is the subject of investigation."
BMW confirmed that one of its test vehicles was involved in a collision near Reutlingen, but denied that the vehicle was fully autonomous.
“The vehicle has a level 2 driving assistance system that is already incorporated in production vehicles today and which can support the driver on demand,” the company said. “With level 2 vehicles the driver always retains responsibility.”
BMW added that the vehicle was required to be marked as a test car for data protection purposes, because it was recording footage.
“We are in the process of investigating the exact circumstances (of the crash),” BMW said. “Of course we are in close contact with authorities.”
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