Investigation reveals new details from deadly Tesla crash in Mountain View

Gladys Abbott
June 8, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is confirming a Tesla auto was on autopilot during a deadly crash in March.

"All aspects of the crash remain under investigation as the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes", the report added.

But the report does not draw an explicit conclusion about the cause of the crash.

No pre-crash braking or evasive steering movement was detected, according to NTSB's summary of performance data recorded by the vehicle.

In March, a Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged collided with a highway barrier, killing driver Walter Huang.

Tesla's Autopilot mode is created to match the speed of a slower vehicle traveling ahead of it.

Shortly after the March 23 crash that killed Huang, Tesla released a statement that said "the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road".

Huang was still belted into the driver's seat but bystanders rescued him from the vehicle before it was consumed by flames.

During that time, he engaged the autopilot system four times, including one continuous period of almost 19 minutes. Four seconds before the crash it was no longer following the lead vehicle, the NTSB said.

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It's been tough times for Tesla's Autopilot for the last few months after a number of crashes involving the technology, some of which were fatal, made the news.

According to data pulled from the Model X, Huang set his 2017 Model X on Autopilot at 75 miles per hour as he traveled south.

The NTSB report also indicates that not only did the driver not have his hands on the steering wheel in the final six seconds before impact, but there was "no precrash braking or evasive steering movement detected".

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in May that Huang had complained to his family previously that his Tesla had tried to veer toward the same barrier while Autopilot was engaged. The attenuator had been damaged 11 days earlier in a previous accident and hadn't been repaired, according to NTSB. A spokeswoman referred to a company blog saying that a Tesla with Autopilot is far safer than vehicles without it.

Two other vehicles subsequently struck the Tesla, resulting in an additional injury.

Tesla's system may have a problem spotting or stopping for stationary objects. A Tesla website says its vehicles have "full self-driving hardware".

In January, a Tesla Model S sedan that may have been using Autopilot hit a parked firetruck on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles. The woman sustained minor injuries.

The crash still remains under investigation, with assistance from the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. Tesla vehicles also have an automatic emergency braking feature that is created to slow a vehicle to avoid or lessen the impact of a collision.

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