Tesla's autopilot was engaged prior to fatal Florida crash: NTSB report

Location of Telsa crash

Tesla's website describes Autopilot as an "advanced driver system" that enhances safety with external cameras, sensors and a radar but demands a "fully attentive driver" at all times. The driver apparently wasn't steering in the eight seconds before the collision, according to NTSB.

Whether the driver's hands were on the steering wheel or not is irrelevant at this point, because the data shows that neither he nor the vehicle made evasive maneuvers.

Jeremy Beren Banner, 50, was killed when his Tesla collided with a semitrailer on March 1. Note that this is not enough information to say the driver definitely took his hands off the wheel; it only means the auto did not detect any torque from the driver's hands.

The Tesla was travelling about 68 miles (110 kilometres) per hour, 13 miles above the speed limit, the NTSB said.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said the tractor trailer pulled into the path of the Tesla, and the Tesla's roof was sheared off as it passed underneath the semi.

The circumstances leading to the crash share many similarities with the 2016 death of Tesla driver, Joshua Brown, who crashed into the trailer of a truck that was crossing two-lanes on a highway in Florida.

The NTSB's proclamation also lines up with previous statements made by the investigative body concerning Tesla's ADAS Autopilot.

In a preliminary report on the March 1 crash, the NTSB said that initial data and video from the Tesla show that the driver turned on Autopilot about 10 seconds before the crash on a divided highway with turn lanes in the median. A final, conclusive report will be released at a later date. 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. It's possible to have one's hands on the wheel without applying force.

Among seven recommendations it made from the investigation was that "Tesla's automated vehicle control system was not created to, and could not, identify the truck crossing the Tesla's path or recognize the impending crash".

While the NTSB ultimately doesn't say who or what is responsible for the collision as the investigation is ongoing, it does imply that the Model 3 driver relied too heavily on the car's ADAS, saying, "From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver's hands on the steering wheel".

Tesla's spokesperson said drivers of the automaker's cars have driven more than a billion miles with Autopilot engaged.

Following the NTSB's report, Tesla stated that "We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy".

Autopilot was also engaged when Apple engineer Wei "Walter" Huang crashed his Model X into a road barrier and died.

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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