Investigation Begins into Crash Between Tesla and Fire Truck
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Investigation Begins into Crash Between Tesla and Fire Truck

Wednesday, April 04, 2018By Richard Alexander

The U.S. National Transportation Board (NTSB) is once again involved in the investigation of a Tesla that crashed while traveling in semi-autonomous mode. In January, 2017, a Tesla collided with a Culver City fire truck in California while driving at 65 mph, according to the fire department. The accident raises more questions about implementing standards for autonomous vehicles and the role of safety regulators in monitoring compliance for autonomous vehicles.

Tesla Faulted in Earlier Crash

Tesla was already the subject of a recent NTSB investigation. In May, 2016, a Tesla Model S crashed into the side of a truck and killed the Tesla driver. The driver, Joshua Brown, had been using the Autopilot feature at the time of the crash. The NTSB investigated that collision and determined that certain limitations of the vehicle contributed to the accident. These include the inability to identify traffic conditions and alert the driver within sufficient time to allow him to react to the potential danger ahead. Federal officials also stated that the truck driver failed to yield upon entering the roadway and the Tesla driver exclusively relied on his Autopilot feature without properly paying attention to road conditions.

The Limits of Autonomous Vehicles  

Tesla asserts that the use of autopilot technology significantly reduces injuries resulting from car accidents. Studies indicate that self-driving cars could be the single biggest improvement in road safety in decades. Tesla responded that it has diligently emphasized that drivers must remain attentive while operating in Autopilot. But this might a very challenging task. Systems like Autopilot often induce drivers into a state of attentiveness because they are so efficient and advanced. In fact, Autopilot was never designed as a strictly hands-free system. Tesla recognized that drivers were misusing the technology in way that could be hazardous to the driver and others, and adjusted the software to ensure that drivers keep their hands on the wheel.

NTSB to Investigate Crash with Fire Truck

The NTSB stated that it will investigate the Tesla driver’s actions and the performance of the car at the time of the collision. The driver of the Tesla blamed the Autopilot feature for the crash. If the NTSB investigation finds that there were no defects in the Tesla Autopilot system, then driver error will be to blame. These types of accidents also demonstrate the dangers of Autopilot cars that are not completely self-driving. The auto industry may be seeing increased pressure to completely transition to fully autonomous cars very soon.

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