NTSB Absolves Tesla's “Autopilot” In Death Of Former Navy SEAL
In what looks like vindication for Elon Musk and Tesla’s autopilot software, the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S sedan that occurred in Florida last year was the result of human error.
Here’s a summary of the NTSB report’s findings, via Reuters.
- “During a 37-minute period of the trip when Brown was required to have his hands on the wheel, he apparently did so for just 25 seconds, the NTSB said in the report.”
- “The report said the Autopilot mode remained on during most of his trip and that it gave him to a visual warning seven separate times that said “Hands Required Not Detected.”
- “In six cases, the system then sounded a chime before it returned to “Hands Required Detected” for one to three second periods.”
- “NHTSA said Brown did not apply the brakes and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles (119 km) per hour less than two minutes before the crash — above the 65 mph speed limit.”
- “The agency said the truck should have been visible to Brown for at least seven seconds before impact. Brown “took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision,” the report said.”
- “A Florida Highway Patrol spokesman said the truck driver was charged with a right of way traffic violation. He is due for a court hearing on Wednesday.”
And a photo of the aftermath of the crash…
A summary of the incident, which took place on May 7, 2016, was included in a cache of documents released by the NTSB:
“About 4:40 p.m. eastern daylight time…a 2015 Tesla Model S, traveling eastbound on US Highway 27A (US-27A), west of Williston, Florida, struck and passed beneath a 2014 Freightliner Cascadia truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot semitrailer. At the time of the collision, the combination vehicle was making a left turn from westbound US-27A across the two eastbound travel lanes onto NE 140th Court, a local paved road. As a result of the initial impact, the battery disengaged from the electric motors powering the car. After exiting from underneath the semitrailer, the car coasted at a shallow angle off the right side of the roadway, traveled approximately 297 feet, and then collided with a utility pole. The car broke the pole and traveled an additional 50 feet, during which it rotated counterclockwise and came to rest perpendicular to the highway in the front yard of a private residence. The 40-year-old male driver and sole occupant of the Tesla died as a result of the crash.”
Back in April, Tesla recalled 53,000 Tesla Model S hatchback and the Model crossover vehicles after the company discovered a faulty electric parking brakes that help secure the vehicles when placed in park. The parking brakes contained a small gear that was prone to fracture, which would prevent the parking brake from releasing. Thus, once a car enters park, it may not be able to move again.
The crash, which took place near Williston, Fla., resulted in the death of Joshua Brown, a former Navy SEAL.
Though the NTSB cleared the Tesla involved of defects back in January, the crash sparked a debate about how Tesla has marketed its autopilot system, which is designed to offload many, but not all, human driving responsibilities. Back in April, Tesla owners filed a class action lawsuit against the company for allegedly mischaracterizing autopilot’s capabilities. The lawyer who filed the suit claims that autopilot is dangerous, and that in releasing it to the public, Tesla treated customers like “beta testers.”
“The lawsuit, filed by law firm Hagens Berman on Wednesday in California’s Northern district court, said Tesla’s partial autopilot technology was advertised as safe and “stress-free,” but instead “is essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous.”
“Unwittingly, buyers of the affected vehicles have become beta testers of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous if engaged,” the lawsuit says.”
One unhappy driver taking to Reddit to allege that autopilot failed to detect a barrier.
“So, I was driving in the left lane of a two-lane highway. The car is AP1 and I’ve never had any problems until today. Autopilot was on didn’t give me a warning. It misread the road and hit the barrier. After the airbags deployed there was a bunch of smoke and my car rolled to a grinding stop. Thankfully no one was hurt and I walked away with only bruises.”
The road was curving right and it stayed straight. By that I mean my best guess is that the AP sensors didn’t catch the curve.”
In September, Tesla unveiled what it said were improvements to its autopilot software, adding new limits on hands-off driving and other features that its chief executive officer said likely would have prevented the crash death, according to Reuters. The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.
While Elon Musk has been all too eager to take credit for when autopilot works properly, he has repeatedly warned that it is the driver’s responsibility – even though regulators have cleared the autopilot system – to ensure the self-driving car does not do stupid things.
In what’s shaping up to be a great news day for Musk, Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Tesla is nearing a deal to produce cars in China for the first time. The company believes that building cars in the world’s second-largest economy – which is itself the world’s largest market for automobiles – is essential to developing more affordable models that would have broader appeal to drivers of all income brackets.
“The agreement with the city of Shanghai would allow Tesla to build facilities in its Lingang development zone and could come as soon as this week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private. Details are being finalized and the timing of the announcement could change. Tesla would need to set up a joint venture with at least one local partner under existing rules and it isn’t immediately clear who that would be.”
Tesla’s revenue in China tripled to more than $1 billion last year, and thanks to the intervention of the Chinese government, sales are almost guaranteed to rise. As Bloomberg reports, “China has identified new-energy vehicles as a strategic emerging industry and aims to boost annual sales of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars 10-fold in the next decade.”
Sales of electric vehicles and hybrids in China are far outpacing the US. In 2015, China surpassed the US to become the world’s biggest market for non-emission vehicles.
Tesla shares spiked on the news before moving back toward the lows of the day.