A preliminary report released on Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed an important piece of information in the fatal crash involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3 earlier this year: Autopilot was engaged.
"When used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance", the company said. The auto did not detect the driver's hands on the wheel for eight seconds.
Back in March, a Tesla Model 3 crashed into a semi-truck turning onto a Florida highway, killing the driver. "Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or [Autopilot] executed evasive maneuvers".
"Shortly following the accident, we informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board that the vehicle's logs showed that Autopilot was first engaged by the driver just 10 seconds prior to the accident, and then the driver immediately removed his hands from the wheel", said a Tesla spokesperson.
NTSB investigators are also probing how the electric Tesla's batteries behave after accidents following several fires.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said the tractor trailer pulled into the path of the Tesla, and the Tesla's roof was sheared off as it passed underneath the semi. The automaker should have restricted use of the driver-assistance system to interstate-like highways, the NTSB said in its findings.
The circumstances leading to the crash share many similarities with the 2016 death of Tesla driver, Joshua Brown, who crashed into the trailer of a truck that was crossing two-lanes on a highway in Florida.
He said Tesla "must restrict Autopilot to conditions where it can be used safely and install a far more effective system to verify driver engagement". Note that this is not enough information to say the driver definitely took his hands off the wheel; it only means the vehicle did not detect any torque from the driver's hands.
The Drive's own Alex Roy has delivered a detailed rebuke in the past on the Model 3's Autopilot interface as to it not being as intuitive as the Model S's and that "Tesla can not solve the Autopilot UI problem fast enough".
An advertisement promotes Tesla Autopilot at a showroom of USA vehicle manufacturer Tesla in Zurich, Switzerland March 28, 2018. This is tragically what happens, ' he added. "There are multiple systems out on the roads right now that take over some level of steering and speed control, but there's only one of them that we keep hearing about where people are dying or getting into crashes".
David Friedman, a former acting NHTSA administrator, said the incident raises serious questions about the system and the lack of restrictions on its use.
"Show me the data", Friedman said.
In a 2017 report on the Gainesville crash, the NTSB wrote that design limitations of Autopilot played a major role.