Tesla Model X Accelerated Toward Barrier Before Fatal Crash

The logo on 2018 Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle is shown in Cardiff California

The logo on 2018 Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle is shown in Cardiff California

Federal safety officials say that a Tesla SUV involved in a fatal crash March 23 on US 101 in Mountain View was being operated in the vehicle's semi-autonomous mode and accelerated sharply just before it slammed into a highway barrier. The NTSB said the crash remains under investigation and that it could make changes to its preliminary report as it does more research on the matter. The NTSB's report acknowledged that the barrier was damaged before the crash. Eight seconds before the crash, "the Tesla was following a lead vehicle and was traveling about 65 miles per hour", the speed limit, according to the NTSB.

The report also said that in the seconds before the crash, the Model X P100D sped up and veered into a gore area between U.S. Highway 101 and State Highway 85. According to the NTSB, not only did the Tesla Autopilot steer into the concrete divider, it actually sped up.

"The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe", Tesla's March blog post said.

The report of the March 23 crash that killed 38-year-old Walter Huang details the minutes and seconds before impact, and echo other accounts of Tesla's Autopilot self-driving software failing to avoid or brake for objects.

The Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip, including continuous operation for the last 18 minutes and 55 seconds prior to the crash.

The NTSB previously faulted Tesla in a 2016 fatal crash in Florida in which Autopilot was engaged, saying "system safeguards were lacking" and "Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention". Four seconds before the crash, the Model X stopped following the lead vehicle and this caused the crossover to speed up as the cruise control system was set at 75 miles per hour (120 km/h).

In the minute leading up to the crash, investigators said Huang had placed his hands on the steering wheel three separate times, for a total of 34 seconds, but he didn't touch the steering wheel in the six seconds leading up to the crash. The attenuator had been damaged 11 days earlier in a previous accident and hadn't been repaired, according to NTSB.

The interior of a Tesla Model X 75D semi-autonomous electric vehicle is shown in January 2017. That has lead some technology developers to focus on fully driverless technology, which requires nothing from passengers.

In one of the disputed statements, Tesla said "the crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the auto providing multiple warnings to do so". The driver in the second incident told authorities she thought Tesla's emergency braking system would stop the vehicle to avert a collision. The firetruck was unoccupied and no injuries were claimed by anyone at the crash scene, authorities said.

"It is the driver's responsibility to drive safely and remain in control of the vehicle at all times", the manual says.

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