Published: Sat, January 21, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

Tesla cleared in fatal crash involving Autopilot

Tesla cleared in fatal crash involving Autopilot

Tesla ― and all automakers developing self-driving vehicles ― must be upfront about the limitations of their technology, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Reuters on Thursday, so that drivers are not lulled into a false sense of security.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it did not find any safety defects in the auto that was involved in the May 7, 2016, crash, which was believed to be the first US death in a vehicle engaged in a semi-autonomous driving feature.

In the document the NHTSA released today, the administration found that the AEB system was "designed to avoid or mitigate rear end collisions" but that "braking for crossing path collisions, such as that present in the Florida fatal crash, are outside the expected performance capabilities of the system".

In May previous year Johsua Brown died while using Autopilot on his Model S, but today's announcement clears the semi-autonomous feature of any blame.

NHTSA says additional investigation isn't required because no defect trend was found, but safety regulators say they will continue to monitor any alleged problems with Tesla vehicles. The report said that Autopilot's adaptive cruise control also "generally provided enough braking to achieve crash avoidance". In a second tweet, Musk cited the report crediting a almost 40 percent drop in crash rate after Tesla began installing the Autosteer feature.

The crash was the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated and had opened up two separate government investigations - a preliminary evaluation of Tesla's Autopilot system by the NHTSA and a homicide investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol.

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Tesla came under intense scrutiny following the crash that resulted in the death of Brown and all subsequent crashes, including a fatal crash in China in which the facts from the standpoint of driver involvement appeared similar. "Tesla's design included hands-on [support to] the steering wheel system for monitoring driver engagement".

It said automatic emergency braking systems used in the automotive industry through model year 2016 are "rear-end collision avoidance technologies that are not created to reliably perform in all crash modes, including crossing path collisions".

It is also alleged that the driver of the Model S may have been watching a movie at the time of the crash.

The federal agency has "learned a lot" from this investigation about how these sorts of technologies work, NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said. The company has said that before Autopilot can be used, drivers must acknowledge that it's an "assist feature" that requires both hands on the wheel at all times and that drivers must be ready to take control.

Still, the agency notes that Tesla could do more to ensure drivers are engaged at all times.

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