An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Walter Huang, an Apple software engineer who was killed in March 2018 when driving the Tesla Model X in Mountain View, California, reported problems with Tesla’s driver-assisted driving system Autopilot.
At the time, 38-year-old Huang Weilun was driving the Model X at 112km/h and started Autopilot when the car hit the middle fence and caught fire, killing him in the crash. The NTSB said Mr Huang had reported problems with Autopilot when he steered the steering wheel to the area between the highway ramp and the driveway.
Data from the vehicle show that during the previous trip, Mr Huang took corrective action after Autopilot turned to the area. The NTSB found that Huang Weilun’s hand was not on the steering wheel for the last six seconds before the accident and showed no signs of braking or evasive movement. The NTSB also found evidence that the driver was using his smartphone while on the road and plans to hold a hearing on February 25 to determine the possible cause of the accident.
Tesla had no immediate comment. Tesla owners say they can avoid holding the steering wheel for long periods of time when using Autopilot, but the company advises owners to put their hands on the steering wheel and focus when using the system.
In Huang Weilun’s case, about a third of the last 18 minutes when Autopilot took over the car, the system did not detect Huang Weilun’s hand on the steering wheel, and the system issued two visual alerts to remind his hands not to leave the steering wheel.
The NTSB said Mr. Huang had been using Apple’s iPhone during his trip and that the records showed evidence of data transmission. Logs recovered with Apple’s help show that during his travels, a word-making app called Three Kingdoms was activated. “Most players hold devices and play games with both hands, but the log data doesn’t provide enough information to determine whether Mr. Huang held his phone in both hands at the time of the crash and did not know how he was playing the game,” the NTSB said. “
The NTSB, which investigates two fatal accidents in Florida and California, has criticized Tesla’s Autopilot, saying the system is designed to allow “drivers to get away from driving.”
The NTSB also released the third investigation into the fatal Autopilot accident in Delray Beach, Florida, in March 2019. In the last eight seconds, there was no evidence that the driver’s hand was on the steering wheel, the documents showed. The Tesla Model 3 driver did not react before hitting the semi-trailer, the NTSB said.