A Tesla Touchscreen Mix-Up Killed Angela Chao: Report

Chao with husband Jim Breyer - Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)
Chao with husband Jim Breyer - Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

Angela Chao — billionaire sister of former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and sister-in-law of Mitch McConnell — died last month when her Tesla Model X sank in a manmade pond on her 900-acre Texas ranch. She was trapped in the car as it flooded, unable to open the unpowered doors, as friends and rescue crews tried to find a way to break in. Now, a report from the Wall Street Journal claims the Tesla’s touchscreen-based shifting interface may have contributed to her getting in the water to begin with.

Back in 2021, Tesla moved to a touchscreen interface for shifting its cars. According to the Wall Street Journal, that touchscreen was a feature that had previously caused problems for Chao. The report claims that, while attempting to make a three-point turn, Chao inadvertently put the Tesla in reverse instead of forward:

Within minutes of saying her goodbyes, she called one of her friends in a panic. While making a three-point turn, she had put the car in reverse instead of drive, she said. It is a mistake she had made before with the Tesla gearshift. The car had zipped backward, tipping over an embankment and into a pond. It was sinking fast. Could they help her?