Investigators say Tesla Autopilot sped up before fatal Model X crash

Tesla Model X

Above Tesla Model XImage Credit Michel Curi

An update from the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that the driver of the Tesla (TSLA +1.9%) Model X that crashed into a highway barrier in a fatal accident on March 23 didn't have his hands on the wheel.

A Tesla running on the Autopilot system, which hit a highway safety barrier in March, didn't try to turn away, didn't brake and in fact accelerated significantly three seconds before the deadly impact, federal investigators said Thursday.

The report says the system cautioned Huang several times - twice with visual alerts, once with an audio alert - that he needed to put his hands on the steering wheel. About eight seconds before the crash, the Tesla was traveling behind another vehicle that was traveling 65 miles per hour, which likely would have caused Autopilot to keep the Tesla at a slower pace. In the final six seconds, no hands were detected on the wheel.

The data also shows that Huang's hand were only on the steering wheel for 34 seconds total in the 60 seconds leading up to the crash.

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Four seconds before the crash, the Tesla no longer detected a vehicle in front of it, and with the cruise control engaged and set at 75 mph, it began speeding up, from 62 mph three seconds before impact to 70.8 mph at the time of impact. The auto gave Huang two visual alerts and one auditory warning to place his hands on the steering wheel during the trip, though those alerts were made more than 15 minutes before the crash.

Two consumer advocacy groups charged May 23 that Tesla's promotional material on Autopilot are deceptive.

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When the SUV moved to the left, it entered a triangular "gore area" that is marked with white lines and divides the freeway lanes from an exit ramp.

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Two other vehicles subsequently struck the Tesla, resulting in an additional injury. That has lead some technology developers to focus on fully driverless technology, which requires nothing from passengers. "Never depend on Automatic Emergency Braking to avoid or reduce the impact of a collision". The firetruck was unoccupied and no injuries were claimed by anyone at the crash scene, authorities said.

Tensions in the NTSB Mountain View probe boiled over on April 11 when Tesla released information about the accident without first clearing it with investigators, prompting the agency to take the unusual action of removing the vehicle company from official participation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the case of a Model S driven by a 28-year-old woman that struck a stopped fire truck on a South Jordan, Utah, roadway on May 11.

The investigation is ongoing and could lead to the NTSB issuing new safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents.

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