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As we reported back in June, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) had opened an investigation into Tesla Motors following a fatal crash. Joshua Brown was killed when his Model S car collided with a truck while in Autopilot mode, raising concerns about the safety of the Autopilot system. The NHTSA has now concluded its investigation and determined that it could not find any defect in the Autopilot system and it will not be issuing a recall of the vehicles.

Following the crash, Tesla stated that the Autopilot system is imperfect and still requires users to keep their hands on the steering wheel so they are ready to take control. This fact is acknowledged by the NHTSA in its report. The report details numerous ways that Tesla informs drivers that that they need to remain alert and ready to take over, such as mentioning it in the user manual and in a dialog box when the Autopilot is first activated. The report also mentions that Tesla has a system to detect if the driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. Both visual and audio alerts are used to remind the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

The NHSTA looked at previous crashes involving vehicles in Autopilot mode and determined that there was no trend of system defects leading to the crashes. According to the report, “Many of the crashes appear to involve driver behavior factors, including traveling too fast for conditions, mode confusion, and distraction. Most of these involve late steering and/or braking actions by the driver to avoid the collision, but a few do not show any actions prior to impact.” The NHTSA also states that the driver in the fatal crash had 7 seconds to avoid the crash but took no action, which it attributes to distraction.

The conclusion of the report is positive, suggesting that there are no defects in the system and that Tesla has taken numerous steps to inform users of the limitations of the Autopilot. However, a footnote suggests that Tesla and other manufacturers should do more. It states, “While drivers have a responsibility to read the owner’s manual and comply with all manufacturer instructions and warnings, the reality is that drivers do not always do so. Manufacturers therefore have a responsibility to design with the inattentive driver in mind.” The report also states that closing of investigation does not mean that no defects exist, and the NHTSA will continue to monitor the issue and take action if necessary.

Is Tesla responsible for crashes while its Autopilot system is engaged? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.