Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY HALSEY III

con­cluded the driver of a Tesla killed in a 2016 crash re­lied too much on the au­ton­o­mous car’s “Au­topi­lot” sys­tem.

The driver of a Tesla who was killed in a crash that drew world­wide at­ten­tion last year was too re­liant on the car’s “Au­topi­lot” sys­tem when he plowed into the side of a trac­tor-trailer at more than 70 miles per hour, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded Tues­day.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said Joshua Brown’s over­re­liance on the au­topi­lot sys­tem “per­mit­ted his pro­longed dis­en­gage­ment from the driv­ing task and his use of au­to­ma­tion in ways in­con­sis­tent with guid­ance and warn­ings from the man­u­fac­turer.” The Tesla’s “Au­topi­lot” sys­tem func­tioned as de­signed in the May 7, 2016 crash. How­ever, the sys­tem is meant to aug­ment, not re­place the driver, the NTSB said.

“In this crash, Tesla’s sys­tem worked as de­signed, but it was de­signed to per­form lim­ited tasks,” NTSB Chair­man Robert Sumwalt said. “The re­sult was a col­li­sion that should not have hap­pened. Sys­tem safe­guards were lack­ing.”

The board said the “op­er­a­tional de­sign” of the ve­hi­cle’s au­topi­lot en­cour­aged Brown’s over­re­liance on it. “Driv­ers must al­ways be pre­pared to take the wheel or ap­ply the brakes,” Sumwalt said.

The NTSB find­ings came as a par­tial ex­on­er­a­tion of Tesla and a re­lief for those work­ing to put au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles on the road.

Link­ing the Tesla crash to the com­ing gen­er­a­tion of fully-au­ton­o­mous cars fu­eled pub­lic fears of ve­hi­cles, sur­veys found.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to clear up a pos­si­ble mis­con­cep­tion,” Sumwalt said. “The au­to­mo­bile in­volved in the col­li­sion was not a self-driv­ing car.”

In the af­ter­math of the crash, Tesla put more strin­gent lim­its on hands-off driv­ing, dis­abling the au­topi­lot fea­ture if driv­ers re­peat­edly ig­nore the au­di­ble and dash­board warn­ings.

Among the NTSB rec­om­men­da­tions Tues­day, the board said au­tomak­ers should in­cor­po­rate sim­i­lar mea­sures and re­strict use on high­ways with cross traf­fic.

An NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tor tes­ti­fied Tues­day that “col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion sys­tems” do not re­li­ably de­tect cross traf­fic. The crash has been doc­u­mented by at least three teams of in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing one from the NTSB, which is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary re­port in June.

Brown, 40, a for­mer Navy SEAL, was driv­ing down a fourlane high­way near Wil­lis­town, Fla., on a sunny Satur­day af­ter­noon with his Tesla Model S set in au­topi­lot mode. The sys­tem al­lows the ve­hi­cle to guide it­self — us­ing mul­ti­ple sen­sors linked to a com­puter sys­tem — like a greatly en­hanced cruise con­trol sys­tem, and comes with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing de­signed to avoid frontal col­li­sions.

Two min­utes ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Brown had set the speed at al­most 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

At about 4:40 p.m., a 53-foot trac­tor-trailer loaded with blue­ber­ries that had been trav­el­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion turned left to­ward a side road, block­ing the path of Brown’s Tesla.

The Tesla ca­reened un­der the truck’s trailer, trav­eled al­most 300 feet far­ther and snapped off a util­ity pole, spin­ning around into a front yard about 50 feet away.

The driver of the trac­tor-trailer, Frank Ba­ressi, 62, told the As­so­ci­ated Press that Brown was “play­ing Harry Pot­ter on the TV screen.” The Florida High­way Pa­trol said a DVD player was found in the Tesla, but two of the NTSB in­ves­ti­ga­tors on Tues­day dis­puted it was be­ing used to watch a video.

“We are quite cer­tain that was not the case,” the NTSB’s En­sar Be­cic told the board mem­bers.

In its pre­lim­i­nary re­port, the NTSB said Brown had his hands on the wheel for just 25 sec­onds in the fi­nal 37 min­utes of his drive. The re­port said he had re­ceived six au­di­ble warn­ings and seven vis­ual dash­board warn­ings, from the au­topi­lot sys­tems telling him to keep his hands on the steer­ing wheel.

The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion joined the NTSB, the high­way pa­trol and Tesla in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the crash. NHTSA de­ter­mined that Tesla’s au­topi­lot fea­ture was not at fault, and its in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Brown never tried to avoid the truck or ap­ply the brakes be­fore the crash.

An­tic­i­pat­ing the at­ten­tion paid to Tues­day’s NTSB hear­ing, Tesla is­sued a state­ment say­ing that NHTSA has found Au­topi­lot can re­duce crashes by 40 per­cent.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the NTSB’s anal­y­sis of last year’s tragic ac­ci­dent and we will eval­u­ate their rec­om­men­da­tions as we con­tinue to evolve our technology,” the Tesla state­ment said.

“We will also con­tinue to be ex­tremely clear with cur­rent and po­ten­tial cus­tomers that Au­topi­lot is not a fully self-driv­ing technology and driv­ers need to re­main at­ten­tive at all times.”

NA­TIONAL TRANS­PORTA­TION SAFETY BOARD VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined the Tesla’s “Au­topi­lot” sys­tem func­tioned as de­signed in the May 7, 2016, crash that killed Joshua Brown, 40.

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