NTSB: Tesla’s Autopilot UX a “major role” in fatal Model S crash

Enlarge / The Tesla Model S following its recovery last year from the crash scene near Williston, Florida. (credit: National Transportation Safety Board)

On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board met to discuss 2016’s fatal Tesla Model S crash in Florida. NTSB did not have any major new findings beyond those we reported in June, nor did its findings differ from a National Traffic Highway Safety Administration investigation into the event. At this point the facts are clear: Joshua Brown was overly reliant on Tesla’s Autopilot function and interacted with the car only seven times in 37 minutes—while traveling at 74mph.

The crash occurred on May 7, 2016, on US Highway 27A near Williston, Florida. The road in question is a four-lane highway with the eastbound and westbound lanes separated by a grass median, but it’s important to note that it is not a controlled access or divided highway. As Brown was traveling east, he failed to notice a tractor trailer making a left-hand turn across his path onto a side road, and the truck driver failed to yield to the oncoming car. The Tesla hit the trailer roughly in its middle, a collision that sheared the roof from the electric vehicle, which continued another 300 feet (91m) down the road before slamming into a utility pole and coming to rest a further 50 feet (15m) in someone’s front yard.

As NHTSA found, the Automatic Emergency Braking feature on the Tesla—in common with just about every other AEB fitted to other makes of cars—was not designed in such a way that it could have saved Brown’s life. The machine learning algorithms that underpin AEB systems have only been trained to recognize the rear of other vehicles, not profiles or other aspects. The NTSB report did find that a Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication system (V2V) could have alerted both vehicles to the potential danger, but as we have discussed ad nauseam, V2V is still absent from new cars even though the spec is almost 20 years old.

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Source: Ars Technica

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