U.S. Board to Conclude 2016’s Tesla ‘Autopilot’ Car Crash in September

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a hearing on September 12 to vote on the probable cause of the fatal car crash that killed a former Navy SEAL, Joshua Brown, in May 2016.

The accident involved a Tesla Model S sedan, which was driven and used in autopilot mode by Brown, and a white semi-truck, which made a left turn in front of the sedan. The NTSB, when the probe on the accident was still on-going, published a 500-page data about the crash. The said report included technical data, transcripts, and images. New details have since been released, such as the lack of evidence to back the semi-truck driver’s claim that Brown was watching a movie, or using other electronic devices, when the vehicles collided.

The NTSB made safety recommendations during the probing, although it did not order for a recall of the said vehicle model.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closed its six-month investigation of the fatal collision in January, also without asking for a recall on Tesla’s Model S sedan, since it reportedly didn’t find any defect in the sedan’s system that could have caused the accident.

The Tesla Model S sedan has been scrutinized after the incident raised concerns and doubts about the safety of its system, which was designed for driving tasks for a length of time with little or without the need of human intervention.

Tesla ‘Autopilot’ Car Crash

Initial reports suggested that Brown was distracted and, as mentioned earlier, was using some other device before the collision, but these reports have not been confirmed since no evidence was found. Jack Landskroner, lawyer of Brown’s family, responded to NTSB’s findings through an email and said that media reports alleging Brown’s movie-watching should be put to rest.

According to the investigation, the Model S was in autopilot for more than 30 minutes during the last 41 minutes of Brown’s driving. Additionally, it was reported that Brown had his hands off the wheel during the whole time that the car was in autopilot.

Consequently, a visual warning saying “hold steering wheel” was displayed seven times during the trip, where six visuals have been accompanied by auditory warnings, according to the report.

Moreover, according to NHTSA’s findings, Brown’s last action two minutes before the crash was to cruise at 74 miles per hour, which was above the 65 miles per hour speed limit.

The NHTSA conducted crash reconstructions, and concluded that Brown had at least seven seconds to notice the semi-truck and react accordingly.

Bryan Thomas, NHTSA spokesperson, stated that the Model S sedan was categorized as a level 2 self-driving system, in which the driver is expected to take-over at a given time.

In 2016, Tesla Inc., an American automaker and solar panel manufacturer, said that the autopilot program “does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.” The California-based company released improvements in the autopilot program and put new limits on hands-on driving, among other features, in September last year. The company’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk, stated that the improvements would have prevented Brown’s death.

Eric Weiss, a board spokesman, said that the NTSB could use the hearing this coming September to make policy recommendations. However, the board still cannot force regulatory changes.

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