Back in March, a Tesla Model X crashed into a highway barrier while reportedly operating on Autopilot, killing the driver of the vehicle. An independent review of the incident by the National Transportation Safety Board has reached a preliminary conclusion, and found that the Tesla’s Autopilot may have actually caused the crash.
According to the report, the Tesla was following another car on the highway with the adaptive cruise control setting on. While cruise control was set to 75 mph, the car was moving at only 65, keeping pace with the car in front. While coming up on a left-hand exit, the Tesla began steering left approximately seven seconds before the crash, diverting into the area between the main highway and the exit road.
At four seconds before the crash, the Tesla began speeding up because there was no car in front of it to trigger adaptive cruise control. At the time of impact, the car was moving at 70.8 mph into a barricade.
Here is the full timeline of events from the NTSB review:
The Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip, including a continuous operation for the last 18 minutes 55 seconds prior to the crash.
During the 18-minute 55-second segment, the vehicle provided two visual alerts and one auditory alert for the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel. These alerts were made more than 15 minutes prior to the crash.
During the 60 seconds prior to the crash, the driver’s hands were detected on the steering wheel on three separate occasions, for a total of 34 seconds; for the last 6 seconds prior to the crash, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.
At 8 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla was following a lead vehicle and was traveling about 65 mph.
At 7 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla began a left steering movement while following a lead vehicle.
At 4 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla was no longer following a lead vehicle.
At 3 seconds prior to the crash and up to the time of impact with the crash attenuator, the Tesla’s speed increased from 62 to 70.8 mph, with no pre crash braking or evasive steering movement detected.
The report also notes that the crash was made worse by a damaged crash attenuator, which normally secures the sides of highways to reduce the severity of impacts. However, the crash attenuator that the Tesla impacted had been damaged a week prior, when another car hit the barrier at the same spot.
These are only preliminary findings, and the investigation still raises some questions, such as why the vehicle’s driver never put his hands on the wheel before the crash. It’s also an open question whether this crash will lead to Tesla implementing some changes to its Autopilot software to prevent similar incidents. But hopefully, whether thanks to a software update or more cautious users, this type of crash will never happen again.
Previously published by: Popular Mechanics USA