Feds say Autopilot was engaged in fatal Tesla vs. semi crash

Tesla model 3 at the Auto show in Paris. The National Transportation Safety Board says Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system was in use when one of its cars drove beneath a semitrailer

The Delray Beach crash, which remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, raises questions about the effectiveness of Autopilot, which uses cameras, long-range radar and computers to detect objects in front of the cars to avoid collisions.

The NTSB says that their report is only preliminary and that the crash is still under investigation.

Jeremy Beren Banner, 50, was killed when his Tesla collided with a semitrailer on March 1.

Banner's hands hadn't touched the wheel from less than 8 seconds before the crash, according to vehicle data. A semi tractor-trailer was crossing those lanes to turn northbound, but slowed before the turn, obstructing the lane ahead of the electric auto, which struck the left side of the semi's trailer and then continued traveling for 1,600 feet (nearly a third of a mile) from the accident site.

Video footage showed that the truck was crossing the highway and had slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes of State Highway 441 in Palm Beach County, blocking the Tesla's path. According to the report, the truck was crossing the highway from a side road when the Model 3 struck the side of the trailer, shearing off the roof and killing the Tesla driver.

In a statement, a Tesla spokesperson said that the company provided NTSB with the vehicle log data shortly after the crash.

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Tesla said back in 2016 that a subsequent update to Autopilot would've saved the driver's life in that particular instance, but it is unclear the degree to which the two fatal incidents are similar beyond the superficial circumstances. This isn't the first documented crash that involved active use of Autopilot, and while it's easy to point fingers at the system or at Tesla, these incidents are much more complicated.

Four months after the May 2016 crash, which killed former Navy SEAL Joshua Brown, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk held a call with reporters to discuss a new version of the Autopilot software. "We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy".

He said Tesla "must restrict Autopilot to conditions where it can be used safely and install a far more effective system to verify driver engagement". But hopefully this can be a reminder that no vehicle on the market right now can drive itself, no matter what any company's CEO may say or do.

"From less than eight seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver's hands on the steering wheel", the NTSB said of the Tesla, adding that there was no evidence that Autopilot "executed evasive measures".

On that occasion Tesla did not reveal whether Autopilot had spotted the barrier.

Now, at first glance, it's easy to blame the driver because the vehicle's data tells us that his hands weren't where they should have been.

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