Tesla Autopilot gave driver in fatal crash ‘far too much leeway’
Federal regulators on Tuesday concluded Tesla’s driver-assist system failed to safeguard against extended hands-free driving during a deadly crash, and recommended more strict controls on future self-driving packages.
The National Transportation Safety Board offered several recommendations to automakers and regulators to tighten up controls on semi-autonomous vehicles as it finalized its investigation of the first, fatal accident involving a self-driving car.
“Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed, and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving,” said Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB. “The result was a collision that should not have happened. System safeguards were lacking.”
A Tesla spokesman said the company will evaluate the board’s recommendations as it upgrades its system. Tesla announced it was re-designing Autopilot last year, and has been sending software system updates to drivers for several
“Autopilot significantly increases safety, as NTSB has found that it reduces accident rates by 40 percent,” the company spokesman said. “We will also continue to be extremely clear with current and potential customers that Autopilot is not a fully selfdriving technology and drivers need to remain attentive at all times.”
As the NTSB called for greater controls on semiautonomous systems, the Department of Transportation on Tuesday released new voluntary guidance for the technology. The agency said it would work with the industry to remove barriers to innovation, and urged states to follow.
“The safe deployment of automated vehicle technologies means we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
The May 2016 crash on a Florida highway took the life of Navy veteran Josh Brown, who was driving his Tesla Model S on Autopilot on a divided road when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of his car. Neither Brown nor Tesla’s driver-assist system recognized or stopped for the turning truck.
The board on Tuesday concluded the crash was due to the truck driver’s failure to yield and Brown’s inattention and over-reliance on Autopilot. Investigators found that Brown ignored repeated warnings from his car to put his hands back on the steering wheel.
“The way that the Tesla Autopilot system monitored and responded to the driver’s interaction with the steering wheel was not an effective method of ensuring driver engagement,” NTSB investigators concluded.
The board recommended that automakers with similar driver-assist systems, including Tesla, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Infiniti and Volvo, build in more safeguards to prevent drivers from misusing the technology. It also wants manufacturers to develop systems that better gauge a driver’s engagement and alertness, and standardize vehicle data so investigators can independently analyze system performance.
An earlier report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found Tesla’s Autopilot operated as advertised. The system of cameras, radar and machine learning technology is not fully-autonomous.
Consumer groups and watchdogs criticized Tesla for advertising the level 2 autonomy package “Autopilot,” saying it misled drivers into believing the system was fully autonomous.
Karl Brauer, publisher for Kelley Blue Book’s KBB. com and Autotrader, said accidents usually have multiple, contributing factors.
“Ignoring the system’s direction to keep your hands on the wheel and stay alert invites potential damage and injury,” Brauer said. “This will be a risk factor until fully autonomous cars are developed, and that’s still a ways out.”
This Tesla struck the underside of a semitrailer while it was using the semiautonomous driving system, killing the driver, Joshua Brown.