Model S Autopilot crash under NHTSA investigation
NHTSA launches probe into Tesla self-driving car deathA deadly crash that killed the driver of a Model S is being investigated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla announced on Thursday. At the time of the accident, Tesla’s autopilot software was engaged. This is the first such incident in over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated, the company said.
Tesla described how the accident occurred in a blog post.
What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact cause the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.
Before autopilot can be engaged, Tesla is explicit with drivers that the technology is still beta software and is merely an assist feature, not something drivers should rely on when driving. As such, Tesla’s visual warnings tell drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times should they need to take over control from the software. Frequent checks are also done to ensure a driver’s hands are on the wheel.
Tesla expanded further on the Model S’s autopilot features and why human intervention is still required in certain situations.
As more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing. Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.
It’s unclear whether or not the driver of the Model S had their hands on the wheel and if they were alert to the situation on the road. Many pundits have criticized Tesla’s autopilot feature for falsely giving drivers the impression that the software is doing more than it really is. The NHTSA’s investigation will figure out whether or not Tesla’s software “worked according to expectations.”
In other words, was this human error or is Tesla’s software to blame?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday it has launched a preliminary investigation into a fatal highway crash involving a 2015 Tesla Model S that was operating with its automated driving system activated.
It’s believed to be the first U.S. death in a vehicle engaged in a semi-autonomous driving feature.
The federal regulator said that the agency received reports from Tesla about a crash in Williston, Florida, near Gainesville, on May 7 with the vehicle operating in autopilot mode. NHTSA said preliminary accident reports say the crash happened when a semitrailer turned left in front of the Tesla at an intersection “on a non-controlled access highway” and the driver died due to injuries in the crash.
NHTSA said the investigation will “examine the design and performance of any automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash.”
Tesla, in a blog posting, said the death is the “first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.”
NHTSA, in a statement, said the Office of Defects Investigation has launched the investigation and will gather more data about the incident and other info about automated driving systems.
“The opening of the preliminary evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles,” the regulator said in a statement.
The review involves about 25,000 vehicles, the agency said.
Tesla, in the blog posting, said the crash happened on a divided highway, with the semitrailer driving across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. The Palo Alto, California-based company said it learned Wednesday that NHTSA would launch the investigation.
“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said. “The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”
Tesla said it disables Autopilot by default and “requires explicit acknowledgment that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.”
The car company says that when drivers activate Autopilot, it reminds drivers that it is an “assist feature” and requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times and that drivers are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle.
Tesla said each time the system is in use, the car reminds a driver to keep hands on the wheel and to prepare to take over the driving at any time. The company said the system also makes “frequent checks” to make sure a driver’s hands are on the wheel, providing visual and audible alerts if they aren’t detected on the steering wheel. The car will gradually slow down until hands are detected, according to the blog.
Tesla said it was saddened by the news of the driver’s death.
“Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert,” the blog says.
the technology is “still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.”
“We do this to ensure that every time the feature is used, it is used as safely as possible,” Tesla said. “As more real-world miles accumulate and the software logic accounts for increasingly rare events, the probability of injury will keep decreasing. Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.”
Tesla stock closed up 1 percent Thursday to $212.28 a share, though the stock was trading lower after hours.