The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is scheduled to hold a second hearing Tuesday local time to discuss the fatal crash involving Tesla Driver Assistance Autopilot to determine the final cause of the accident. The case involved Tesla owner and Apple engineer Huang Weilun, who was killed in a car crash after his car crashed into a barrier in the middle of the Mountain View highway in March 2018.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Tesla’s driver assistance system and other factors, including driver distractions and problems with the road infrastructure, will be scrutinized.
As self-driving features become more common in new cars, the hearing could teach the auto industry more lessons. Several other automakers have also equipped their cars with technology that provides automatic steering, acceleration and braking, and some have installed systems to keep drivers focused. GM and Subaru both use infrared cameras to track drivers’ head and eye movements, and Nissan says it will install similar driver monitors in autonomous driving systems.
Tesla has said Autopilot makes drivers safer. The company’s quarterly internal data shows that autopilot is less frequent than manual driving. Tesla stresses that when using Autopilot, drivers must put their hands on the steering wheel and keep their attention.
In 2017, the NTSB, after concluding its first investigation into a fatal car crash involving Autopilot, called on companies to better ensure drivers’ concentration when using self-driving features that require manual oversight. It also calls on automakers to take steps to limit the use of autopilot assists to the driving scenes they design.
The recommendations stem from the NTSB’s investigation into an incident in 2016. The Tesla Model S, driven by former U.S. Navy SEAL Joshua Brown, was on a Florida highway when it crashed into a commercial truck that crossed the road in front of him, killing him. The NTSB said the key factors in the accident were Brown’s over-reliance on auto automation and the lack of built-in safety measures to prevent inattention.
Automakers, including Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW, have filed papers with the NTSB describing how their systems ensure drivers are focused on driving, which the NTSB says is acceptable. But CHRIS O’Neil, a spokesman for the NTSB, said Tesla had not yet formally communicated with officials overseeing the implementation of the security recommendations.
“This is not the norm, and most automakers will respond within the prescribed 90 days,” O’Neill said. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment, but said it upgraded Autopilot in part to warn careless drivers more frequently.
Tesla also maintains regular contact with NTSB investigators and provides NTSB with information about its systems. But Mr O’Neill said: “This is not a substitute for a formal response to security advice, and the purpose of this process is to help us understand what they are doing to implement them and how they are progressing, which may tell us whether other measures are necessary.” “
Records from the Mountain View crash investigation suggest that the NTSB may highlight several factors that could have contributed to the fatal crash at Tuesday’s meeting. When Autopilot started and set it to 112km/h, Huang Weilun’s 2017 Tesla Model X accelerated and hit a concrete barrier. The NTSB said vehicle data showed neither the driver nor the vehicle’s self-driving system had braked before the collision.
Earlier, it was reported that Huang had complained that Autopilot had repeatedly turned his car into a crash site while driving on the same stretch of highway earlier. Records released by the NTSB also show that data taken from the car’s computer confirmed that the same thing happened in Mr Huang’s car four days before and at the same location a few weeks ago.
In addition, the concrete barrier that Huang Weilun’s Tesla hit should have been protected by the collision attenuator, a device attached to the highway infrastructure to absorb the impact. But the crash attenuator was damaged 11 days ago, and the California Department of Transportation had not repaired it before the crash.
The NTSB, citing data transmission records, said records reviewed by the agency showed that Mr. Huang was playing games on Apple’s mobile device before the accident. However, the NTSB said the data did not show how much he was involved in playing the game or whether he was holding his phone in his hands at the time of the accident.
In addition to the NTSB, investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have launched 14 investigations into the Tesla crash involving Autopilot, and 11 more involving other manufacturers with some automated systems.