Tesla Autopilot System To Blame For Deadly Accident

2015 Tesla Model S involved in crash         NTSB image

A federal investigation has found that Tesla's Autopilot is partly to blame in the fatal crash of a Model S a year ago.

As per the ruling that follows the concordant recommendation of the National Transport Safety Board that the Tesla the Silicon Valley Automaker shared the blame for the first deadly crash that took place involving such auto. But it said that while Tesla's system was operating as technically designed, it was also not being used in the situations it was intended for, which means the driver wasn't as engaged as they should be.

M - The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that "operational design" permitted a driver to rely too much on self-driving features in a Tesla crash some 16 months ago. A British science magazine headlined, "Tesla driver dies in first fatal autonomous auto crash in U.S.", while CNN asked "Can we trust driverless cars?" and the headline on CBS was "This fatality could slam the brakes on driverless cars".

Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old OH man, was killed near Williston, Florida, when his Model S collided with a truck while it was engaged in the "Autopilot" mode. At the time of the crash, Brown was traveling at 74 miles (118 km) per hour in an area where the speed limit was 65 mph, when he collided with the semitrailer making a left turn. 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.

The board also recommended better data sharing by automakers and for improvements in the way vehicles ensure drivers are paying attention.

Brown had his hands on the sedan's steering wheel for only 25 seconds out of the 37.5 minutes the vehicle's cruise control and lane-keeping systems were in use prior to the crash, investigators found.

In a series of tweets, the NTSB summarized some its findings about the need for people to be fully engaged while driving.

"System safeguards were lacking", NTSB Chairman Robert Zumwalt said today in statement. Neither Brown nor Tesla's driver-assist system recognized or stopped for the turning truck. Tesla has repeatedly said in the past that drivers must keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road if they enable Autopilot. Tesla did, however, agree with the NTSB that Autopilot is not fully self-driving, and should not be used as such.

Brown was traveling on a divided highway near Gainesville, Florida, using the Tesla's automated driving systems when he was killed.

The incident raised questions about the safety of systems that can perform driving tasks for extended stretches of time with little or no human intervention, but which cannot completely replace human drivers.

Tesla maintains that Autopilot is not a self-driving system.

The board reiterated two safety recommendations issued to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013, dealing with minimum performance standards for connected vehicle technology for all highway vehicles and the need to require installation of the technology, once developed, on all newly manufactured highway vehicles. The relationship with Mobileye broke down, and Tesla is now developing its own sensor suite (HW2) and software (AP2), which has yet to reach the same level of functionality as its earlier cars.

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