A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday said that a Tesla Model X traveling on Autopilot increased the vehicle's speed before it crashed into a highway barrier and killed its driver. The NTSB had objected to Telsa making statements concerning the cause of the crash before the investigation is complete, while Telsa accused the agency of releasing incomplete information and "trying to prevent us from telling all the facts". The electric vehicle's 400-volt lithium ion battery was breached and caught fire, according to the NTSB report.
The crash on USA 101 killed the driver, Walter Huang, 38, an Apple software engineer.
The triangular gore area is marked by white lines to show the divide between the exit ramp and the thru lanes on the highway, but the Tesla sped through the gore area and slammed head-on into a previously damaged crash attenuator at the end of a concrete median barrier, at a speed of about 71 miles per hour.
The blog says Autopilot does not prevent all crashes but makes them less likely.
The NTSB said information downloaded from the vehicle showed Huang turned on the Tesla's Autopilot function four times during the 32-minute-long drive, and Autopilot was on for almost all of the final 19 minutes of the drive up until the auto crashed.
The Tesla was no longer following a lead vehicle four seconds before the crash.
It's been tough times for Tesla's Autopilot for the last few months after a number of crashes involving the technology, some of which were fatal, made the news. The Autopilot's cruise control system, which is created to match the speed of a slower vehicle ahead of it, was set at 75 miles per hour. In the final minute before the collision, hands were detected on the steering wheel for just 34 seconds.
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The San Francisco Chronicle reported in May that Huang had complained to his family previously that his Tesla had tried to veer toward the same barrier while Autopilot was engaged.
The report raised an issue for Tesla vehicles with Autopilot, as well as other vehicles with adaptive cruise control, said Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Two other vehicles subsequently struck the Tesla, resulting in an additional injury.
In January, a Tesla Model S sedan that may have been using Autopilot hit a parked firetruck on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles.
It serves as a tragic reminder that drivers need to always pay attention when using Autopilot and be ready to take control at all time. There was no braking or evasive steering detected prior to impact.
Tesla said earlier that "the reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is created to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced".