Tesla fatal crash: ‘autopilot’ mode sped up car before driver killed, report determines


Findings about crash in Silicon Valley create fresh concerns about limits of Elon Musks technology

A Tesla driving in “autopilot” mode crashed in March when the vehicle sped up and steered into a concrete obstacle, according to a new report on the fatal crash, creating fresh concerns about Elon Musk’s technology.

The National Transportation Safety Board( NTSB) said that four seconds before the 23 March crash on a highway in Silicon Valley, which killed Walter Huang, 38, the car stopped following the path of a vehicle in front of it. Three seconds before potential impacts, it sped up from 62 mph to 70.8 mph, and the car did not brake or steer away, the NTSB said.

Walter Huang, who died in the Tesla crash, with his wife. Photograph: Hand-out/ Minami Tamaki LLP

The report- which said the Tesla battery was violated, causing the car to be engulfed in flames- comes after after the company has repeatedly sought to deflect blame on to the driver and the local freeway conditions. Musk has also aggressively attacked journalists writing about this accident and other recent autopilot crashes, complaining that the negative attention would discourage people from using his technology.

The NTSB report, however, has once again created serious safety questions about the limits and performance of the autopilot technology, which is meant to assist drivers and has faced growing scrutiny from experts and regulators. Mark Fong, an attorney for Huang’s household, also said the report appeared to” contradict Tesla’s characterization” of the collision.

Following numerous embarrassing autopilot accidents, including Teslas colliding into a police vehicle and firetruck, the company has pointed to its manual which warns that the technology cannot detect all objects and that drivers should remain attentive.

After the fatal accident in the city of Mountain View, Tesla noted that the driver had received multiple warns to set his hands on the wheel and said he did not intervene during the five seconds before the car made the divider.

Emergency personnel at the scene of the crash in Mountain View, California. Photograph: AP

But the NTSB report revealed that these alerts were attained more than 15 minutes before the accident. In the 60 seconds prior to the collision, the driver also had his hands on the wheel on three separate occasions, although not in the final six seconds, according to the agency. As the car headed toward the barrier, there was no” precrash braking” or” evasive steer motion”, the report added.

Fong said in a statement:” The NTSB report offer facts that support our concerns that there was a failure of both the Tesla Autopilot and the automatic braking systems of the car .”

” The Autopilot system should never have caused this to happen ,” he added.

” There’s clearly a technology failing ,” said Erick Guerra, an assistant professor in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania.” The technology is just not up to doing as much as people hope it can do .”

Tesla declined to comment on the NTSB report. In previous statements, the company emphasized that the highway safety hurdle had been damaged in an earlier crash, contributing to the severity of the collision. The NTSB confirmed this previous damage.

Some critics have alleged that the Tesla ” autopilot ” branding and Musk’s hype about his technology can be misleading and problematic given that the current capability of his vehicles continues to be fairly limited. Experts say the development of autonomous technology is entering a particularly dangerous phase when drivers are lulled into a false sense of security but expected to intervene to avoid crashes and other problems.

” In an ideal automated system, it should really be taking over when the driver fails … rather than forcing the driver to take over when it fails ,” said Guerra, who was not involved with the NTSB report.

The NTSB, which has publicly feuded with Tesla over the release of information during the investigation, said it intended to issue safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents.

The problems with the damaged freeway divider do not” absolve Tesla of responsibility”, said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor and expert in autonomous vehicles.” That doesn’t mean they are off the hook .”

Tesla’s decorators were not able to have anticipated this specific kind of crash, he added:” The technology is being deployed before there is a clear sense of … what is adequately safe .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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