NTSB releases preliminary report on fatal Tesla crash on Autopilot

Source NTSB  S. Engleman

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report on the deadly Tesla Model X crash from late March.

It likely will take more than a year to determine what caused the crash, NTSB spokesman Christopher O'Neil said Thursday.

The preliminary results of that NTSB investigation have been released, and they are concerning. Eight seconds before the crash, "the Tesla was following a lead vehicle and was traveling about 65 miles per hour", the speed limit, according to the NTSB.

The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report on the crash gives a second-by-second account of the Model X's behavior as it approached the exit from southbound USA 101 to Highway 85. According to the NTSB, not only did the Tesla Autopilot steer into the concrete divider, it actually sped up.

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The report of the March 23 crash that killed 38-year-old Walter Huang details the minutes and seconds before impact, and echo other accounts of Tesla's Autopilot self-driving software failing to avoid or brake for objects.

What caused the accident remains the heart of the investigation and the NTSB says the Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip including continuously during the final 19 minutes prior to the collision. One second later, the model "began a left steering movement" while still following the lead vehicle.

Tesla has repeatedly referred to a government report from January 2017, which has been widely criticized, that found that Autopilot reduced crash rates for Tesla by 40%. The Autopilot's cruise control system, which is created to match the speed of a slower vehicle ahead of it, was set at 120 km/h.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment but pointed me to its March blog post, where the company describes how the driver's hands were not detected on the wheel for the six seconds prior to the collision. Tesla, however, previously said it has no record of Huang complaining about Autopilot. But that device had been damaged in a previous crash on March 12.

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Two consumer advocacy groups charged May 23 that Tesla's promotional material on Autopilot are deceptive. After hitting the attenuator, the Tesla hit two other cars. "The focus is on what led to this crash and how do we prevent it from happening again".

Last month, police in Utah said a Tesla in Autopilot mode crashed into a parked fire truck. The Tesla driver suffered fatal injuries while the driver of the Mazda suffered minor injuries and the driver of the Audi was not injured.

The crash still remains under investigation, with assistance from the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. There was no braking or evasive steering detected prior to impact. "It is the driver's responsibility to drive safely and remain in control of the vehicle at all times", it says.

A Tesla spokeswoman pointed to passages in the company's owners' manual warning that automatic emergency braking is created to reduce severity of a crash and isn't created to avoid a collision.

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