Third fatal Tesla Autopilot crash renews questions about system

Third fatal Tesla Autopilot crash renews questions about system

A Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O) Model 3 involved in a March 1 fatal crash in Florida was being driven by the vehicle's semi-autonomous Autopilot system and the driver's hands weren't on the steering wheel, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokesperson told the Register that autopilot makes journeys safer when "used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times". Tesla said the vehicle did not detect Banner's hands on the wheel during impact, and neither he nor the autopilot system tried to swerve, the report states.

The circumstances of the Delray Beach crash are much like one that occurred in May 2016 near Gainesville, Florida.

The Tesla Model 3 was traveling at 68 miles per hour (110 km/h) in a 55 miles per hour zone when it struck the truck's trailer and continued under it, shearing the Tesla's roof off and killing its 50 year-old driver, Jeremy Banner.

"Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers", investigators wrote. The crash remains under investigation.

NHTSA is investigating the March 1 crash and in an emailed statement said it's "carefully evaluating all available data and will share any findings upon conclusion of its investigation".

Neither Brown nor the auto braked for a tractor-trailer, which had turned left in front of the Tesla and was crossing its path.

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The roof of the vehicle was sheared off in the accident and the driver was killed. The final Highway Accident Report from the NTSB for that incident found that "The Tesla's automated vehicle control system was not created to, and did not, identify the truck crossing the car's path or recognize the impending crash". As a result, Tesla shorted the time Autopilot issues a warning alert when the driver's hands are off the wheel.

The accident, the latest involving Autopilot, left the Tesla driver, a 50-year-old male dead and the combination vehicle driver uninjured.

In a statement Thursday, Tesla said it was saddened by the crash and that drivers have traveled more than one billion miles while using Autopilot. GM's Super Cruise driver assist system only operates on divided highways with no median turn lanes, he said.

Banner's hands hadn't touched the wheel from less than 8 seconds before the crash, according to vehicle data.

"Two crashes with such striking similarities should be a wake up call to NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to open a defect investigation", added Cathy Chase, president for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The NTSB used video from a nearby surveillance camera showing the collision and the video devices that Teslas use to help them steer and perform other functions.

We should point out that this information from the NTSB is only preliminary at this point in time. A research paper released earlier this year by MIT scientists studying Tesla's driving-assistance system found that in the context of "tricky situations" - scenarios that may lead to property damage, injury or death - drivers disengaged Autopilot on average every 9.2 miles.

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