Skip to main content

Tesla, and even Apple, get some blame for fatal crash on Autopilot, says NTSB

Tesla, and even Apple, are receiving some harsh criticism from the NTSB regarding a fatal crash on Autopilot in 2018.

As we reported yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a board meeting today “to determine the probable cause of the fatal crash.”

The crash in question happened on March 23, 2018. A Model X hit the median barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California, and it quickly caught on fire before being hit by two other cars.

The driver was taken to the hospital, but he unfortunately died of his injuries.

The NTSB quickly announced an investigation into the incident. At first, the investigation apparently revolved around the fire and how to handle electric car fires after crashes, but the situation later changed.

After reviewing the data logs of the vehicle, Tesla issued a statement confirming that the Model X was on Autopilot, and it released an explanation of the last moments before the impact.

Following the statement, the NTSB said that it was “unhappy” about Tesla releasing its interpretation of the data, and it would now also look into the role of Autopilot in the accident.

At the time, Tesla CEO Elon Musk hit back at NTSB’s critique of Tesla releasing data of the fatal Autopilot accident.

During the hearing today, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt put some of the blame on both Tesla and Apple, the employer of the driver.

Sumwalt said about Apple:

The crash driver’s employer, Apple, is a tech leader, but like most employers, has yet to develop a distracted driving policy.

As we reported yesterday, phone data about the accident showed that the driver was playing a game on his phone around the time of the crash, though it’s unknown how engaged he was with the game, or if he was even holding the phone.

The NTSB chairman also said about Tesla (via Reuters):

Sumwalt also had harsh words for Tesla, which he said has ignored the NTSB’s calls for the company to equip its vehicles with better safeguards to prevent drivers from misusing systems that provide limited automation. He said auto safety regulators have provided little oversight of the technology and also ignored recommendations to improve the safety of those systems.

Tesla tells drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and stay attentive at all times when using its Autopilot features.

Electrek’s Take

I find it strange that the NTSB is blaming Tesla for only telling people to pay attention and then blaming Apple for not telling its employees to pay attention when driving.

First off, I don’t think it should be the responsibility of someone’s employer to tell their employees to pay attention when driving (unless they’re employed by, say, a trucking company). It’s nice if they do it, but you can’t blame them for not getting involved in how people drive.

Again, it sounds like NTSB is involving Apple here as an employer, not as the manufacturer of the phone involved.

As for Tesla, I think it’s the driver’s responsibility to pay attention at all times.

With this said, I think Tesla can also improve its driver-monitoring system, specifically, its steering-wheel sensor, which can only detect torque being applied to the wheel and not just your hands grabbing the wheel.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.



Avatar for Fred Lambert Fred Lambert

Fred is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at Electrek.

You can send tips on Twitter (DMs open) or via email:

Through, you can check out Fred’s portfolio and get monthly green stock investment ideas.