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An Update on Last Week's Accident | Tesla
Tesla insists Model X driver was at fault in fatal crash
Author

15 April, 2018

Walter Huang died in a crash and vehicle fire in a Model X close to Mountain View, California, in March, prompting investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

On March 23, 38-year-old Walter Huang, an Apple engineer, was driving to work with the auto on Autopilot, according to a post on Tesla's blog.

The NTSB expects its full investigation and report to take at least a year and up to two years, an amount of time Tesla doesn't have the patience for to stay mum.

"Releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash", the agency said in its statement. In a statement by a Tesla spokesperson, the company blamed Huang himself for his death, saying that while they "empathize" with the Huang family, the impression that the company's cars are not safe is "false" and that "the reason that other families are not on TV is because their loved ones are still alive". It's also refused to comment on how many alerts can be ignored before the system disengages, what version of Autopilot software was in Huang's Model X, or when the auto was built.

However, a lawyer for Huang's family said that by blaming the driver, Tesla is sidestepping concerns Huang's family has about the car's Autopilot capabilities, according to ABC7 News.

Companies that no longer have formal status as a party to an NTSB investigation can lose access to information uncovered in the probe and the ability to shape the official record of the incident, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the NTSB who is now senior vice president at O'Neill & Associates, a Washington lobbying and public relations firm. But the NTSB said Tesla flouted the deal with the agency when it agreed to be a party.

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The company also said Autopilot "requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel", and that the system gave alerts, both visual and auditory, "several times" to Huang when his hands were not on the wheel during his March 23 drive.

The highly unusual public conflict between the federal government's top transportation safety agency and Tesla executives could shape how future investigations unfold. The company indicated that with minimum follow distances that drivers needed to be attentive to the road and ready to intervene with hands on the steering wheel.

Tesla disputed the wording of the NTSB's statement. The firm said its preliminary review of the crash suggested Autopilot was defective. When I visited Tesla's headquarters for a Model S test drive past year, the spokeswoman made a point of walking me through the various safety warnings a driver sees both before and during Autopilot use.

In a letter sent to Tesla, the agency referred to statements made by the automaker "on or about April 10" regarding the crash.

Federal safety investigators have booted electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc. from the group investigating a fatal crash in California that involved an SUV operating with the company's Autopilot system.

The Palo Alto, California, company said its vehicle logs showed Huang took no action to stop the Model X from crashing into a concrete lane divider. The safety board has subpoena power that it's used in rare instances to compel companies involved in investigations to provide information.


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