- National Transportation Safety Board
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed its six-month investigation into the first Tesla Autopilot fatality and is not seeking a recall.
The auto safety agency did not find evidence of a defect that would have required a safety recall of the cars, NHTSA spokesperson Bryan Thomas said during a press call on Thursday.
“A safety-related defect trend has not been identified at this time and further examination of this issue does not appear to be warranted,” NHTSA wrote in its report.
“Accordingly, this investigation is closed. The closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists,” the statement continued.
Tesla’s Autopilot, introduced in October 2015, has been the focus of intense scrutiny since it was revealed in July that a Tesla Model S driver, Joshua Brown, was killed while using the technology in a May 7 collision with a truck in Florida. The accident is the first known fatality to occur while Tesla Autopilot was activated.
Brown was driving his 2015 Model S in Williston, Florida when a truck made a left turn in front of the car. The Model S then passed under the truck, with the bottom of the trailer striking the windshield. The Tesla then drove off the road and smashed through two fences before hitting a power pole.
Tesla wrote in a blog post following the May accident 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.”
“At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion,” Tesla wrote in a statement about NHTSA’s findings.
- Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
Autopilot is not cross-traffic aware, meaning it should not be expected to recognize and react to vehicles crossing in front of a car, Thomas said.
That’s an important finding, considering Mobileye, the former supplier of Tesla’s vision systems for Autopilot, publicly denounced Tesla following the accident for “pushing the envelope in terms of safety.” Mobileye is no longer a Tesla supplier.
“Today’s collision avoidance technology, or Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is defined as rear-end collision avoidance, and is designed specifically for that. This incident involved a laterally crossing vehicle, which current-generation AEB systems are not designed to actuate upon,” Dan Galves, Mobileye’s Chief Communications Office, wrote in a July statement about the accident, according to Electrek.
Thomas said it looked into Mobileye’s comments, but that it did not change NHTSA’s findings.
“Ultimately, our finding is that there was no defect at the time of this crash and I’m not going to get into the press release battle between companies other than that,” he said on the press call.
The driver had at least 7 seconds to see the tractor trailer and react accordingly, NHTSA found after performing crash reconstructions. Thomas added that Tesla Autopilot is considered a Level 2 self-driving system, meaning the driver is expected to monitor the system and take over at a given time.
The driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, told the Associated Press in June that Brown was watching a “Harry Potter” movie at the time of the crash. Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes told Business Insider that a DVD player was discovered at the scene, but could not confirm Baressi’s claims.
The last recorded action by the driver before the crash was setting the car’s cruise control to 74 mph.
Tesla in September unveiled improvements to its Autopilot software, adding new limits on hands-off driving and other improvements that CEO Elon Musk has said likely would have prevented a fatality in May.
Reuters’ David Shepardson contributed to this report.