Tesla vehicle using ‘Autopilot’ accelerated before fatal crash

Tesla vehicle using ‘Autopilot’ accelerated before fatal crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the recent fatal Tesla Autopilot accident involving a Model X that struck a highway divider in California.

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

Four seconds before the crash, the Tesla's on-board computer was no longer following that vehicle, and three seconds before the crash it sped up from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour.

The report said the Tesla vehicle's driver, a 38-year-old man, did not have his hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the auto slammed into a safety barrier called a crash attenuator, which separated the highway's carpool lane from an off-ramp. In the post, the company said the driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the highway barrier but took no action to avoid the collision, citing vehicle logs.

The report also notes that the vehicle was in AutoPilot mode for 18 minutes and 55 seconds ahead of the collision.

In April, a woman in Utah crashed her Model S traveling at 60 miles per hour into a fire truck while using Autopilot. The Model X sustained major damage, causing the front end to separate from the rest of the vehicle.

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 has defended its iterative approach, arguing that its features, in conjunction with attentive humans, are already providing for significantly safer cars. But that device had been damaged in a previous crash on March 12.

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Questions have been raised about the Tesla autopilot system's ability to detect stopped or stationary objects in other crashes.

Last month, police in Utah said a Tesla in Autopilot mode crashed into a parked fire truck. A Tesla website says its vehicles have "full self-driving hardware". "We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash". The driver told authorities the Autopilot was working at the time.

The man, identified as Apple engineer Wei "Walter" Huang, later died from injuries sustained in the crash. NTSB, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a regulatory agency that can seek recalls and fine automakers, are investigating that crash.

The report concluded that the Tesla did not attempt to brake or steer clear of the barrier.

Tesla said earlier that "the reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is created to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced".

"It is the driver's responsibility to drive safely and remain in control of the vehicle at all times", the manual says.

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