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Nation & World

Federal panel: Driver in Tesla crash relied too much on Autopilot

But Tesla also shares some blame

WASHINGTON – A fatal 2016 crash involving a Tesla sedan was caused by the driver’s over-reliance on his vehicle’s Autopilot system and by a truck driver’s failure to yield while entering a Florida roadway, a federal panel determined Tuesday.

But the National Transportation Safety Board also laid some blame on Tesla Inc., in the long-awaited findings of an investigation into the first-known fatal accident involving semi-autonomous driving technology.

The board said Tesla’s Autopilot contributed to the crash. The software of the Tesla Model S “permitted [the driver’s] prolonged disengagement from the driving task” and let him use the Autopilot system on the wrong type of road.

“In this crash, Tesla’s system worked as designed, but it was designed to perform limited tasks in a limited range of environments,” the board’s chairman, Robert L. Sumwalt, said after the board voted 4-0 on the probable cause of the crash and staff recommendations for avoiding future crashes.

– Tribune News Service

“Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed … and the system gave far more leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving,” he said. “The result was a collision that, frankly, should have never happened.”

Joshua Brown, 40, died when the Tesla Model S sedan he was driving smashed into the trailer of a big-rig truck that was making a left turn in front of it from a cross street. Brown was traveling 74 mph using the Tesla’s semiautonomous Autopilot feature, which did not identify the truck and stop the vehicle.

Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and led by Elon Musk, said that “the safety of our customers comes first” and that its Autopilot technology “significantly increases safety” and reduces crashes.

The company cited a January report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found a 40 percent drop in crashes after an automatic steering feature was included in Tesla cars. That report also concluded Tesla’s Autopilot had no safety defects and no recall was needed.

“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 company said in a written statement. “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.”

The NTSB’s staff extensively studied the crash and issued its findings as the automotive industry accelerates its development of self-driving vehicles.

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it was loosening rules on the development of driverless cars. The announcement came less than a week after the House passed legislation that would exempt automakers from some safety standards and permit up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles a year to hit U.S. roads.


©2017 Los Angeles Times

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