USA agency expected to find Tesla's Autopilot contributed to crash


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a meeting today to discuss the results of its investigation into a 2016 crash in which a Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged collided with a transport truck, resulting in the death of the Tesla's driver Joshua Brown.

In its findings on Tuesday, the NTSB said the self-driving system's "operational design" was a contributing factor to the 2016 crash because it allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for lengthy periods of time that were "inconsistent" with warnings from Tesla.

The Tesla system, despite being able to take readings of speed limits and other key factors, does not shut off Autopilot on such roads.

Brown, a 40-year-old OH man, was killed near Williston, Florida, when his Model S collided with a truck while it was engaged in the "Autopilot" mode.

The board's final report declares the primary probable cause of the accident as the truck driver's failure to yield, as well as the Tesla driver's overreliance on his car's automation - or "Autopilot", as Tesla calls the system. NTSB staff said during a hearing that this change would have disabled Autopilot in the Florida crash.

Tesla had told Model S owners the automated systems should only be used on limited-access highways, which are primarily interstates.

Part of that, the NTSB indicated, had to do with Tesla.

At the DOT-NHTSA news conference in Ann Arbor, MI, announcing the new federal voluntary self-driving guidelines a NHTSA spokesman said the agency hadn't yet reviewed the NTSB findings.

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But Tesla could've taken additional steps to prevent misuse of Autopilot, which worked as designed, the NTSB said, but the feature was used in ways that weren't intended-and that Tesla didn't go far enough to ensure drivers remained alert.

"NHTSA should have been a partner with the NTSB in this investigation, but they were not", said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director.

"We appreciate the NTSB's analysis of last year's tragic accident and we will evaluate their recommendations as we continue to evolve our technology", the spokesperson said. "The probability of having an accident is 50% lower if you have Autopilot on", said Musk at a 2016 energy conference in Oslo, Norway.

Two minutes earlier, according to reports, Brown had set the speed at nearly 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit. Investigators said they do not know if the truck driver saw the approaching Tesla, as the driver refused requests to be interviewed. The agency found, among other things, that Autopilot's adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering were engaged when the Model S struck the trailer at 74 miles per hour. Newer versions of Tesla's Autopilot stop the auto after the third such infraction, but drivers can go for minutes at a time without steering or quickly stop the warning, according to NTSB. The report said that he had received six audible warnings, and seven visual dashboard warnings, from the autopilot systems telling him to keep his hands on the steering wheel.

The Model S is a level 2 on a self-driving scale of 0 to 5. The NTSB suggested to any maker of semi-autonomous vehicles to prevent the use of the technology on roads where the vehicles aren't suited to travel without human control of the vehicle.

'Nobody wants tragedy to touch their family, but expecting to identify all limitations of an emerging technology and expecting perfection is not feasible either, ' the statement said.

Brown's death drew worldwide attention as it was the first known fatal crash to involve a vehicle traveling on its own using semi-automated technology. "There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the vehicle".