May 26, 2019

Third fatal Tesla Autopilot crash renews questions about system

18 May 2019, 04:05 | Hattie Nash

Tesla Model 3: Autopilot engaged during fatal crash

Tesla 3 crash in Florida 2019

Federal authorities have released the results of an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla Model 3 and a semi truck that cost the Tesla driver his life earlier this year.

The NTSB preliminary report doesn't make any conclusions about the cause of the accident, as the agency will continue to gather information on the incident, potentially issuing safety recommendations at a later date. The driver apparently wasn't steering in the eight seconds before the collision, according to NTSB. "Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or [Autopilot] executed evasive maneuvers". The first was in Williston, Florida, on May 7, 2016 and the situation was similar - a Tesla Model S drove into truck without driver or system intervention.

The driver was found to have used Autopilot for 37 minutes but only had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds.

The auto was traveling at about 68 miles per hour before it collided with the truck as it crossed the highway, tearing off the car's roof and killing Banner.

Federal investigators have determined that a Tesla driver who was involved in a fatal auto accident had the vehicle operating on its semi-autonomous Autopilot system.

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In a statement, a Tesla spokesperson said that the company provided NTSB with the vehicle log data shortly after the crash.

The circumstances leading to the crash share many similarities with the 2016 death of Tesla driver, Joshua Brown, who crashed into the trailer of a truck that was crossing two-lanes on a highway in Florida.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said the tractor trailer pulled into the path of the Tesla, and the Tesla's roof was sheared off as it passed underneath the semi. A final, conclusive report will be released at a later date.

Years of research show that it's nearly impossible for drivers to always leap into action in an emergency if their car is automating the main driving tasks, such as steering and speed control, said Kelly Funkhouser, program manager for automated and connected vehicles at the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center.

"We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy", Tesla said in an emailed statement. Data from the damaged Tesla shows that the car's autopilot system had been engaged 10 seconds prior to the collision.

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He said Tesla "must restrict Autopilot to conditions where it can be used safely and install a far more effective system to verify driver engagement".

The Drive's own Alex Roy has delivered a detailed rebuke in the past on the Model 3's Autopilot interface as to it not being as intuitive as the Model S's and that "Tesla can not solve the Autopilot UI problem fast enough".

A precedent: This is the third Tesla crash of this type. The impact sheared off the car's roof and killed the driver.

Now, at first glance, it's easy to blame the driver because the vehicle's data tells us that his hands weren't where they should have been.

On that occasion Tesla did not reveal whether Autopilot had spotted the barrier.

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