The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report on the deadly Tesla Model X crash from late March. While the report does not make a ruling on the primary cause of the crash, it does offer a breakdown of everything that happened in the lead-up to the collision, which claimed the life of Walter Huang. According to the NTSB, not only did the Tesla Autopilot steer into the concrete divider, it actually sped up.
Huang had set the vehicle’s cruise control to 75 miles per hour and left Autopilot active for almost 19 minutes before the crash, according to the new NTSB report. Autopilot uses sensors to determine when there is a car in the lane ahead and adjusts the set speed lower. Just before the accident, the Model X was traveling at 65 miles per hour.
Then, seven seconds before the crash, the Tesla began drifting left to align with the lead car as it headed into a left-side exit. However, the Tesla reported it was no longer following said vehicle four seconds before the accident. That left the car in a so-called “gore area,” a triangular region of pavement between highway lanes and an exit ramp. With no car in front of it, the Model X began accelerating again to the 75 mph cruise setting, before colliding with the concrete barrier that separated the highway from the exit ramp at 70.8 mph.
The NTSB reports no pre-crash steering or braking occurred, and the system did not instruct Huang to put his hands back on the wheel. In fact, the car had not reminded Huang to do so for 15 minutes before the crash. 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.
These regions usually have protective “attenuators” on the concrete barriers, but Tesla has noted that the barrier in this location had been damaged in a previous wreck. The NTSB report confirms that, but does not speculate on how that affected the severity of the crash.
From this preliminary report, it sounds like the Autopilot lost track of its lane position after steering to follow the other car. By the time the system corrected that mistake, the car was on a collision course for the divider.
Tesla made waves several months ago by releasing details from its telemetry data before the NTSB report. This unusual move irked the NTSB to such a degree that it stopped cooperating with Tesla on the investigation. Perhaps Tesla was so eager to have its say because of the severity of the crash. Not only was the driver killed, the Model X battery burst into flames. It was so badly damaged that it even reignited several days later. The company declined to comment on the NTSB report.
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