NTSB: 'Operational Design' Played Role in Tesla Model S Crash

Tesla Autopilot system played ‘major role’ in fatal 2016 crash according to National Transportation Safety Board pointing finger of blame at Tesla for ‘operational limitations’ in its self-driving system

The National Transportation Safety Board's finding that Tesla's Autopilot shares the blame for a fatal crash with a truck in Florida past year underscores the need for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards covering automated driver assistance technologies, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The NTSB on Tuesday found that the system's "operational design" was a contributing factor to the 2016 crash because it allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for lengthy periods of time that were "inconsistent" with warnings from Tesla. Though the NTSB does not have regulatory powers, its recommendations do carry weight with regulators, according to commentators. NTSB went on to criticize too-few safeguards for Tesla's Autopilot system, which can center the vehicle in its lane and accelerate and brake on its own.

"And the system gave too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving".

Brown became the first person to officially die in a self-driving auto accident when his Tesla Model S electric sedan ran into a semi-trailer truck in Florida.

The family noted Tesla's continued improvements to Autopilot and said it "takes solace and pride in the fact that our son is making such a positive impact on future highway safety".

The NTSB, an independent government investigative agency, met on Tuesday to "determine the probable cause" of the fatal crash past year in Williston, Florida. But the company didn't incorporate protections against their use on other types of roads, the board found.

Autopilot has torque sensors on the steering wheel that detect whether the driver is holding it. The system could not reliably detect cross traffic and "did little to constrain the use of autopilot to roadways for which it was designed", the board said.

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At a public hearing on Tuesday on the crash involving Brown, NTSB said the truck driver and the Tesla driver "had at least 10 seconds to observe and respond to each other".

Joshua Brown's family released the statement Monday, the day before the National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to decide the cause of the crash.

Tesla said in June 2016 that Autopilot "is not flawless and still requires the driver to remain alert". "There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the vehicle". The Tesla Autopilot system monitored the driver's attention through his interaction with the steering wheel, which previous findings have determined was incredibly limited. "Nobody wants tragedy to touch their family, but expecting to identify all limitations of an emerging technology and expecting perfection is not feasible either", the statement said.

NTSB recommended that NHTSA require automakers to have safeguards to prevent the misuse of semi-autonomous vehicle features.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January said it did not find evidence of a defect and would not issue a recall following its six-month investigation.

At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and one thing is very clear: Autopilot significantly increases safety, as NHTSA has found that it reduces accident rates by 40%.

But Brown and the truck driver bore some fault, as well, in the Florida crash, the agency said.

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