It's not yet known whether the Autopilot feature was in use when this Tesla Model S rammed into the back of a fire engine. File photo: South Jordan Police Department via AP

Fremont, California - Tesla chief Elon Musk has defended self-driving car technology after reports about the latest crash involving one of the electric carmaker's vehicles.

Musk lamented on Twitter about what he portrayed as an unfair focus on mishaps rather than benefits of autonomous vehicles with the potential to make roads safer.

He tweeted: "It's super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the (approximately) 40 000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage. 

"What's actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle."

Whether the car's Autopilot feature was engaged when a Model S collided with the rear of a stopped fire fire engine in South Jordan, Utah on 11 May remains to be confirmed. According to local media, police said the woman at the wheel of the car claimed it was in a self-driving mode and that her attention was on her phone.

Sensational headlines

Musk complained recently that accidents involving self-driving cars get sensational headlines while the potential for the technology to save lives is downplayed or ignored. Among accidents to make headlines was a fiery crash on 23 March in California that involved its Autopilot feature. The US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, which led to the death of a 38-year-old father of two, Walter Huang. 

Tesla has released several statements on the accident, including a blog post on 30 March that expressed sorrow for the family but defended its technology and pointed responsibility for the crash on the driver. Huang's hands were "not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision", Tesla said in the blog.

While its cars have Autopilot capabilities, drivers are called on to be paying attention and ready to take control of steering wheel.

The NTSB is also investigating a Tesla Model S crash in Florida that left two people dead and another injured. The board has said the 2014 Tesla was reportedly traveling at high speed when it hit a wall then caught fire last week, but its self-driving capabilities are not expected to be involved.

The safety agency has yet to announce whether it will be looking into the Utah crash.

Agence France-Presse