NTSB Faults Tesla And Publicly Calls Out NHTSA To Share Blame In Fatal 2019 Crash

The NTSB has once again cited both Tesla and regulations surrounding partially automated driving systems as the cause of a fatal 2019 crash in Florida that involved a Tesla on Autopilot. The agency also said that two drivers were to blame.

Yet again, Tesla, Autopilot and our nation’s regulation of the partially automated driving system has come up, and yet again we will bet that both the NHTSA and congress does absolutely nothing about it – which has been par for the course for them over the last several years. 

In their report issued on Thursday, the NTSB said that design of Tesla’s Autopilot system allowed the driver to not be paying attention, according to WFTV. They also said that Tesla failed to limit where the automated system could be used, allowing drivers to activate it where they shouldn’t.

Then, in a highly unusual move, the NTSB accused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of contributing to the crash.

They said the agency’s inaction and failure to put safeguards in place to limit use of such systems was to blame. 

Back in February, we reported that the NTSB had found Autopilot to be engaged during the crash. The driver had set the car to go 69 miles per hour 12.3 seconds before the crash took place on a highway that had a speed limit of 55 mph, according to Bloomberg. The NTSB also revealed that the driver’s hands were not on the wheel for the final 7.7 seconds before the crash. 

The NTSB had also arrived at similar findings regarding a 2016 Florida crash where another Tesla driver didn’t react to a truck in the roadway. In that instance, the NTSB found that Tesla’s Autopilot design contributed to the cause of the accident. 

A previous NTSB preliminary report that we covered in Spring of 2019 had described the events leading up to the incident:

As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes.

According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path. The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south. The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash.

The preliminary report had estimated Autopilot was engaged about 10 seconds before the collision. It also said that the vehicle “didn’t execute evasive maneuvers”: 

The driver engaged the Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers.

In March of last year, we also reported that the NHTSA was investigating the company.

A spokesperson for the NHTSA said that the agency was in the midst of an “ongoing investigation” involving two crashes in Florida and that the agency would “take additional actions if appropriate”.

We won’t hold our breath waiting for those…


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