'System safeguards' lacking in Tesla crash on autopilot -US NTSB

An employee drives a Tesla Motors Model S electric automobile equipped with Autopilot hardware and software hands-free on a highway in Amsterdam Netherlands

US transport may fix part of blame for fatal Model S crash to Tesla

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to find on Tuesday that Tesla Inc's Autopilot system was a contributing factor in a May 2016 Model S crash that killed a man in Florida while using the car's semi-autonomous driving system, two people briefed on the matter said.

"Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed, and the system gave far more leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving", Board member Christopher Hart said. The Tesla Autopilot system monitored the driver's attention through his interaction with the steering wheel, which previous findings have determined was incredibly limited.

The report looked at factors behind the accident, in which 40-year-old Tesla enthusiast Joshua Brown died after failing to respond to seven warnings from the Tesla system to return to active driving.

Tesla wrote in a blog post after the crash that the Autopilot system did not notice "the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied".

Also on Monday, the family of the driver killed in the 2016 incident said the auto was not to blame for the crash.

The NTSB directed its recommendations to automakers generally, rather than just Tesla, saying the oversight is an industry-wide problem.

NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt said the Tesla's "operational limitations played a major role in this collision".

The NTSB issued 13 findings related to the crash, including a pair of citations over Brown's driving patterns. But the agency charged that the Model S by design allowed "prolonged disengagement from the driving task and enabled the driver to use it in ways inconsistent with manufacturer guidance and warnings".

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Tesla said it was reviewing the agency's recommendations, according to Reuters.

"We appreciate the NTSB's analysis of last year's tragic accident and we will evaluate their recommendations as we continue to evolve our technology", a Tesla representative wrote in a statement.

"A driver could have difficulties interpreting which roads it might be appropriate [to use Autopilot]", Ensar Becic, an NTSB human performance investigator, said during the hearing.

Autopilot has torque sensors on the steering wheel that detect whether the driver is holding it.

It's the first known fatal crash of a highway vehicle operating under automated control systems, according to the NTSB. The NTSB suggested to any maker of semi-autonomous vehicles to prevent the use of the technology on roads where the vehicles aren't suited to travel without human control of the vehicle.

The board said the direct cause of the crash was an inattentive Tesla driver's over reliance on technology and a truck driver who made a left-hand turn in front of the vehicle.

Tesla Model S after recovery from the crash scene near Williston, Florida in 2016. "Nobody wants tragedy to touch their family, but expecting to identify all limitations of an emerging technology and expecting perfection is not feasible either", the statement said. NHTSA and NTSB said Brown did not apply the brakes, and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles per hour (119 kph), less than 2 minutes before the crash - above the 65-mph speed limit. "There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the auto".

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