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NTSB Partially Faults Tesla "Autopilot" in Final Report

Blog history:
NHTSA Report on Fatal Tesla "Autopilot" Accident 02/09/17
NTSB Opens Docket on Tesla Crash 06/21/17

The following regards the latter item as the NTSB has issued its final report on the accident.

Related links:
NTSB press release: Driver Errors, Overreliance on Automation, Lack of Safeguards, Led to Fatal Tesla Crash
NTSB abstract: Public Meeting of September 12, 2017 (PDF file)
NTSB docket: HWY16FH018


News:
Driver in Tesla crash relied excessively on Autopilot, but Tesla shares some blame, federal panel finds
Jim Puzzanghera
September 12, 2017
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
Source; excerpts follow:

Quote

A fatal 2016 crash involving a Tesla sedan was caused by the driver's over-reliance on his vehicle's Autopilot system and by a truck driver's failure to yield while entering a Florida roadway, a federal panel determined Tuesday.

But the National Transportation Safety Board also laid some blame on Tesla Inc. in the long-awaited findings of an investigation into the first-known fatal accident involving semiautonomous driving technology.

The board said Tesla's Autopilot contributed to the crash. The software of the Tesla Model S "permitted [the driver's] prolonged disengagement from the driving task" and let him use the Autopilot system on the wrong type of road.

The NTSB also said technology that senses a driver's hands on the wheel -- such as that used by Tesla -- is not an effective way to tell whether the driver is paying attention.

"In this crash, Tesla's system worked as designed, but it was designed to perform limited tasks in a limited range of environments," the board's chairman, Robert L. Sumwalt, said after the board voted 4 to 0 on the probable cause of the crash and staff recommendations for avoiding future crashes…

Read article


There's not much new here; instead I think the NTSB final report affirms what is known and much of what has been previously discussed; including:

  • The truck driver is responsible for failing to yield when entering/crossing active traffic lanes.
  • The Tesla driver is responsible for inattentive (distracted) driving.
  • Tesla's "Autopilot" did not have adequate "driver engagement" safeguards.
  • Tesla's "Autopilot" (and similar systems) are not designed for "crossing traffic" situations, and should only be used on limited-access highways.

It's important to remember that Tesla updated its "Autopilot" system after this accident, making it more difficult for drivers to "leverage" the driver-assist technologies into a supposedly-autonomous vehicle. The NTSB report is assigning fault to the version of "Autopilot" at the time of accident (May 2016).

I'm not sure if the full report mentions this but I've previously talked about (what I call) Tesla's "rush to market" with its "Autopilot" tech. (They are not the only offender.) Tesla called it a "public beta test" but I think that's an oxymoron; if it's available to all Tesla owners/drivers and anyone who might buy the car, then it's public. If it's in the open market then you can't call it a "beta test". Plus, I think they oversold it, saying that Tesla owners are smart people and the system works at speeds up to 94-mph: "Here, you're intelligent, go fast!" I'm not sure if this rises to the level of negligence but I still think it was irresponsible.

Conversely, Tesla reacted to the release of the NTSB final report in a restrained and responsible manner:

Quote

"We appreciate the NTSB's analysis of last year's tragic accident and we will evaluate their recommendations as we continue to evolve our technology," the company said in a written statement. "We will also continue to be extremely clear with current and potential customers that Autopilot is not a fully self-driving technology and drivers need to remain attentive at all times."…

The most poignant passage is from NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt III:

Quote

"Smart people around the world are hard at work to automate driving, but systems available to consumers today, like Tesla's 'Autopilot' system, are designed to assist drivers with specific tasks in limited environments. These systems require the driver to pay attention all the time and to be able to take over immediately when something goes wrong."…

IOW: You are STILL DRIVING the car! If you don't want to accept the responsibilities of operating a motor vehicle on public byways then walk, bike, or take a bus, train, or UberLyft. Driver-assist technologies have great potential to reduce accidents, injuries, and deaths but YOU are still responsible.

Wrinkle: I wonder how driver insurance covers incidents like this.

Finally:
House Green Lights Autonomous Vehicle Legislation
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