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Tesla Autopilot fatal crash with truck is under investigation, preliminary report released

A fatal crash that occurred earlier this year and involved a Tesla Model 3 on Autopilot and a truck is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

They have now released their preliminary report.

We reported on the accident when it first happened on March 1.

A Model 3 on Autopilot crashed into the side of a trailer of a truck crossing the highway in Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florid

The accident was reminiscent of the tragic death of 45-year-old Joshua Brown in a collision with a truck while using the Autopilot of his Tesla Model S in Florida back in May 2016.

Neither Brown nor Autopilot managed to see the trailer of a truck crossing the highway and the car ended up going underneath the trailer and Autopilot kept driving another significant distance before coming to a stop.

It sparked a federal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system and eventually, NHTSA closed its investigation without finding any defect or issuing any recall.

Now, the NTSB is investigating this new accident in Florida and they released their preliminary report today.

The agency described the accident in the report:

“As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes. According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path.

The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south (figure 2). The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. The 45-year-old male driver of the combination vehicle was uninjured.”

They released the following images in the report:

Based ont their preliminary findings, the NTSB said that they could determine that Autopilot was turned on just seconds before the crash:

“Preliminary data from the vehicle show that the Tesla’s Autopilot system—an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that provides both longitudinal and lateral control over vehicle motion—was active at the time of the crash.1 The driver engaged the Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers.”

Here’s the full preliminary report:

[scribd id=410321633 key=key-5x4i09Cj5FoROv3p1D0l mode=scroll]

Electrek’s Take

The image of the aftermath is horrific, tragic, and it sounds like everything happened very fast.

I don’t think we can really blame Autopilot for it based on what we know so far, but I also don’t want people to jump on the driver for not having his hands on the wheel.

Tesla’s data showed that “from less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.”

But if Tesla is “not detecting” the hands on the wheel, it doesn’t mean that the driver didn’t have his hands on the wheel.

For people who have used Autopilot before, it’s clear that Tesla is not good at detecting hands on the wheel. It can only detect torque being applied on the wheel.

Therefore, the driver could have been holding the steering wheel. Let’s wait for more information.

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