NTSB Report Concludes Tesla Autopilot On During March 2019 Crash

Autopilot was engaged when a Tesla electric car ran into a semi truck’s trailer in March 2019, shearing the roof off the car and killing its driver, according to the recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report.

Tesla’s autopilot mode is an advanced driver assistance system which can control both the speed and direction of the car. The report says the driver activated autopilot ten seconds before the crash, and the autopilot did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel from two seconds later until the impact. The report says that neither videos nor preliminary data show that the autopilot or the driver attempted to evade the trailer. The vehicle was moving at 68 miles per hour at the time of impact.

The truck driver was attempting to cross a highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the highway’s northbound lanes when the Tesla struck the trailer’s left side, according to the report.

The NTSB has not determined the probable cause of the accident and an investigation into the accident remains ongoing, according to the report.

Tesla stocks fell more than 4% the day after the report, reaching the lowest they’ve reached since January 2017.

A similar accident occurred in May 2016 when a man was killed in Florida when his Tesla collided with a tractor-trailer. Autopilot was on during that collision, as well. That Tesla had an earlier version of autopilot. Tesla said its camera couldn’t recognize the white truck against such a bright sky, but the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the accident was the driver’s fault, since he wasn’t paying attention to the road.

The fact that a second accident has occurred after the May 2016 accident, despite a new version of the autopilot software, suggests that Tesla may have failed to fix a problem inherent in the autopilot. Tesla has not yet explained any efforts or ideas to fix the problem as of May 2019.

An anonymous Twitter user, in March 2019, posted data to Twitter demonstrating that Tesla’s autopilot interpreted a perpendicular tractor-trailer as an overhead structure, saying the autopilot would have continued to drive through the truck if he did not manually intervene. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in June 2016 that Tesla’s autopilot ignores what it thinks are overhead road signs in order to prevent “false braking events.”

It should be noted that Tesla’s instructions for using the autopilot feature make clear that the operator’s hands should always remain on the steering wheel even when autopilot feature is activated.

As accident attorneys we understand there are many variables at play for any accident and creating software to successfully detect and avoid all such variables is a huge undertaking. Unfortunately, as more companies integrate driverless technology into their automobiles, more accidents like this one are to be expected.


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