Tesla driver's family doesn't blame vehicle for his death

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

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

The chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday "operational limitations" in the Tesla Model S played a "major role" in the May 2016 crash that killed a driver using the vehicle's semi-autonomous "Autopilot" system.

The NTSB's findings came an hour before the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new autonomous vehicle guidance, "A Vision for Safety 2.0", which explicitly ignored so-called Level 2 technologies like Autopilot.

Joshua Brown, a former Navy SEAL, died May 7, 2016 when his Model S struck a truck crossing the road in front of him on a Florida highway. Another finding was that "Fatigue, highway design and mechanical system failures were not factors in the crash". Autopilot was also not created to be used on the type of road where the crash occurred, the agency said.

The NTSB, an independent government investigative agency, met on Tuesday to "determine the probable cause" of the fatal crash past year in Williston, Florida.

At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and one thing is very clear: Autopilot significantly increases safety, as NHTSA has found that it reduces accident rates by 40%.

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"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 result was a collision that frankly should never have happened".

"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", the company said. The company has since made upgrades to its Autopilot system.

A spokesman for NTSB declined to comment.

The agency said the Autopilot system operated as designed but did not do enough to ensure drivers paid adequate attention.

But Brown and the truck driver bore some fault, as well, in the Florida crash, the agency said.

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The Model S is a level 2 on a self-driving scale of 0 to 5. Drivers are supposed to continuously monitor vehicle performance and be ready to take control if necessary.

NTSB recommended that NHTSA require automakers to have safeguards to prevent the misuse of semi-autonomous vehicle features.

The statement provided by the family's attorney, Jack Landskroner, defended Brown's actions and Tesla. The Model S displayed a visual asking Brown to hold the steering wheel seven times during the trip, and six of those were followed by auditory warnings, it wrote. "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.

Autopilot had been engaged for 37 of the 41 total minutes of the trip-before the system and Brown failed to detect a semi truck crossing in front of the auto and collided with the truck's trailer.

While the NTSB was meeting to consider the Tesla crash, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was in MI unveiling new self-driving vehicle safety guidelines for automakers. However, Tesla warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and to pay attention even when the automated systems are in use. The systems are expected to detect and respond to people and objects both in and out of its travel path "including pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, and objects that could affect safe operation of the vehicle", the guidelines say.

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