NTSB releases preliminary report on fatal Model X crash

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The driver of a Tesla Inc Model X vehicle using Autopilot did not have his hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before a fatal crash in California in March, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. Earlier today, the NTSB published its preliminary report on the events surrounding the fatal crash.

The vehicle crashed into a highway barrier in Mountain View, California.

Eight seconds before the crash, the SUV was following a vehicle and traveling about 65 miles per hour. Tesla has defended its iterative approach, arguing that its features, in conjunction with attentive humans, are already providing for significantly safer cars.

The report of the March 23 crash that killed 38-year-old Walter Huang details the minutes and seconds before impact, and echo other accounts of Tesla's Autopilot self-driving software failing to avoid or brake for objects.

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While the technology behind advanced driver assistance systems like Autopilot is incredible, and the systems themselves are helpful in many situations, it's important to remember that they aren't flawless and that drivers that are utilizing them need to remain attentive and ready to re-engage at a moment's notice - for their safety and the safety of others.

A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on the NTSB's report and pointed to a March 30 company blog post.

Four seconds before the crash, the Tesla "was no longer following a lead vehicle".

"Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents - such a standard would be impossible - but it makes them much less likely to occur", Tesla wrote in a March blog post.

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Tesla's Autopilot is a driver assistance system that handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel. A second later, the SUV began a "left steering movement" while still following the other vehicle. In the final minute of his drive, Huang had his hands off the wheel for 34 total seconds, including the six seconds preceding the crash. The attenuator had been damaged 11 days earlier in a previous accident and hadn't been repaired, according to NTSB. "The focus is on what led to this crash and how do we prevent it from happening again".

According to a preliminary report from the NTSB, the vehicle increased its speed from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour in the three seconds before the collision. Drivers are expected to keep their hands on the wheel and engaged at all times when the feature is activated. The driver in the second incident told authorities she thought Tesla's emergency braking system would stop the auto to avert a collision. In that incident, the driver of the Model S did not touch the steering wheel in the 80 seconds before the crash.

Tesla said earlier that "the reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is created to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced".

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