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'Operational limitations' of Tesla Autopilot system played 'major role' in 2016 crash: NTSB

'Operational limitations' of Tesla Autopilot system played 'major role' in 2016 crash: NTSB

'Operational limitations' of Tesla Autopilot system played 'major role' in 2016 crash: NTSB
September 12
15:39 2017


An employee drives a Tesla Motors Model S electric automobile, equipped with Autopilot hardware and software, hands-free on a highway in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Jasper Juinen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

An employee drives a Tesla Motors Model S electric automobile, equipped with Autopilot hardware and software, hands-free on a highway in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The “operational limitations” of Tesla’s Autopilot system played “major role” in 2016 crash, said the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday.

NTSB investigators met to determine the cause of a fatal crash involving a Tesla on Autopilot in May of 2016. The Board previously determined the crash was not the result of a defect in the system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in September of 2016 that a subsequent update to the Autopilot system could have prevented the crash.

The accident was the first known fatal crash involving a car using an automated driver assistance system, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

The vehicle was set to cruise control at 74 miles per hour, above the 65 mile-per-hour speed limit, moments before the crash.

The Autopilot system failed to detect a semi truck crossing an intersection in front of the car, and the car collided with the truck’s trailer, killing the driver.

The driver had Autopilot engaged for 37 of the 41 total minutes of the trip.

Autopilot has torque sensors on the steering wheel that detect whether the driver is holding it. If the sensors indicate the driver is not holding the wheel, it issues warnings that will disengage Autopilot, forcing the driver to take over again.

Data taken from the car indicate the driver had his hands on the wheel seven times during the time the system was engaged, for a total for 25 seconds.

The driver’s “lack of engagement” suggests an over-reliance on the Autopilot system, NTSB investigators said.

In particular, the investigators said using torque sensors on the steering wheel is a poor method for gauging driver engagement. Driving is a largely visual activity, said NTSB investigator Ensar Becic, and whether or not hands are on the wheel does not necessarily indicate whether the driver is paying attention.

The Board recommends companies turn to other technologies.

“One potential option is an eye tracker, a driver facing camera,” Becic said.

This story is developing. Please check back for further updates.

–Reuters contributed to this report



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