Tesla cleared of wrongdoing after auto-pilot death

The man who became the first self-driving car fatality ignored repeated warnings from his Tesla Model S, a US National Transportation Safety Board report says.

The 500-page report clears the company of any wrongdoing.

On May 7 last year in Florida, Joshua Brown was behind the wheel of his Model S, set to autopilot mode, when the vehicle ploughed into a white trailer truck, its systems apparently blind to the white vehicle in the blazing sun.

The key finding of the NTSB report, released overnight, is that during a 37-minute period of the trip when Mr Brown was required to have his hands on the wheel, his high-tech vehicle's log indicates he did so for just 25 seconds.

The report said the Autopilot mode remained on during most of his trip and that it gave him to a visual warning seven separate times that said: "Hands Required Not Detected."

In six cases, the system then sounded a chime before it returned to "Hands Required Detected" for one to three second periods.


Joshua Brown's Tesla Model S after the crash (NTSB)

In September, Tesla unveiled improvements in Autopilot, adding new limits on hands-off driving and other features its chief executive said probably would have prevented the crash death. The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

Mr Brown's family says it is still reviewing the report and its legal options.

Telsa has not commented on the report but, at the time of Mr Brown's crash, the company said in a statement that "Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky."

The company extended its sympathies to the driver's family but also served up some cold statistics, saying, "This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles."


The point of impact on the trailer-truck (NTSB)

Local enthusiast undeterred
Shortly after Mr Brown's fatal collision last year, an early local Tesla buyer — Orion Health boss Ian McCrae — told NBR he used the autopilot feature and would continue to use it.

Mr McCrae said Tesla makes it clear to him as an owner that autopilot is still a beta or trial feature, and that the driver is supposed to keep their hands on the wheel – although he noted that in practice the driver has to "sort of hover your hands above it or grip it loosely as the vehicle’s self-drive computer takes control and moves the wheel."

In March, Uber suspended its driverless-car trial, being conducted in partnership with Volvo, after a crash. No one was injured but the incident highlighted the challenges for autonomous vehicles on busy city roads where human drivers often do not follow the rules.

Read the full report here.

Autopilot Full Self-Driving Hardware (Neighborhood Short) from Tesla, Inc on Vimeo.

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