Tesla opts out of investigation into deadly crash Model X
American electric car maker Tesla is withdrawing officially from the investigation lead by the NTSB (National Transport Safetey Board) into the deadly crash, in March 2018 in Mountain View (CA), of a Tesla X Model on Autopilot. Tesla won’t swallow the NTSB’s request not to communicate about the Autopilot as long as the investigation runs.
On March 23rd Apple engineer Wei ‘Walter’ Huang was driving his Tesla X on Autopilot, the semi-automatic driving mode, when the car crashed unexpectedly into an already damaged safety barrier section of a concrete lane divider. The car was totally wrecked and with the impact the batteries of the car caught fire. Huang was rushed to the hospital where he died of his injuries.
No hands on the wheel
According to Tesla the car was in Autopilot mode, but Huang didn’t have his hands on the steering wheel, despite several visual warnings and an audible sign to take control. The track record of the car shows the driver didn’t have his hands on the wheel the last six seconds before impact. He had a 150 m clear view on the safety barrier, but no action was taken.
By communicating this, Tesla did not stick to “an agreement not to communicate elements of the investigation before they are verified and confirmed by the NTSB”, says its president Robert Sumwait. Tesla’s statute as official party was revoked by the NTSB, “a decision that was communicated to Tesla CEO Elon Musk by phone on Wednesday evening and confirmed by mail on Thursday”.
Pointing at each other
In separate press releases both parties point at each other for the responsibility of this breach of confidence. Tesla stated it opted out of the agreement with the NTSB “because they asked us not to give any public information about the Autopilot for the duration of the investigation.”
“We consider this demand to have a negative impact on the safety of the public. We believe in transparency and an agreement that prevents the publication of information for almost a year isn’t acceptable”, Tesla adds. It will, however, continue to cooperate with the investigation ‘unofficially’.
‘Autopilot caused death’
Meanwhile the family of victim Huang has engaged law firm Minami Tamaki LLP to take juridical steps. They say that based on their preliminary conclusions and other cases of complaints of Tesla’s Autopilot function, they estimated “the Tesla Autopilot function shows to have defects and has probably caused the death of Huang”.
The NTSB underlined on Thursday it “continued to encourage Tesla to take measures in the framework of the recommendations we did after our investigation of the 2016 accident in Florida”. Which might be viewed as the NTSB being not entirely convinced of the modifications Tesla did afterwards.
Modifications after first crash
On May 7th 2016 Joshua Brown crashed with his Tesla Model S into a truck in Gainesville, Florida, while driving on Autopilot. Apparently the cameras of the car were blinded by the sun reflecting on the white trailer of the truck, that passed ‘an uncontrolled intersection’.
From autumn 2016 on, Tesla has updated the Autopilot hardware and software system with sensors enabling the car to ‘see’ in poor visibility circumstances, like rain, fog and snow. The Autopilot will urge the driver to touch the wheel in a more urging way en will turn off eventually when getting no positive response.