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NTSB: Autopilot Engaged at Time of Fatal Florida Tesla Crash – The Truth About Cars


Tesla Model 3, Image: Tesla

A fatal March collision between a Tesla and a semi trailer that bore a strong resemblance to a crash in the same state three year earlier was more similar than initially thought.

Following the March 1st collision between a Tesla Model 3 and a semi on US 441 in Delray Beach, Florida, in which the car underrode a trailer crossing the divided roadway, the National Transportation Safety Board went to work. A preliminary report is now out, confirming suspicions that, like the 2016 crash, the car was under the guidance of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist system at the time of the crash.

The NTSB report claims the semi trailer was pulling out of a driveway belonging to an agricultural facility, crossing the southbound lanes in order to make a left turn onto northbound US 441.

“According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path,” the report states.

“The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south (figure 2). The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. The 45-year-old male driver of the combination vehicle was uninjured.”


According to crash investigators, the Tesla driver activated Autopilot — a combination of lane-holding and adaptive cruise control — “about” 10 seconds before the collision. The driver’s hands were off the steering wheel for the 8 seconds preceding the impact.

“Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers,” the report states.

The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 55 mph.

As in the May 2016 Florida crash that killed Joshua Brown, it seems the Tesla’s camera and non-LIDAR sensors did not pick up the trailer crossing the road directly in front of it. There are differences between the two crashes. The recent crash occurred at 6:17 a.m., some 27 minutes before sunrise. In the earlier crash, the Tesla impacted the semi trailer in broad daylight. As well, the NTSB determined that Brown had his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds of the 37 minute trip, receiving numerous visual and audio warnings during that time.

It seems the Delray Beach driver was not in Autopilot mode long enough to receive the hands-on-wheel prompt. Regardless, it didn’t change the outcome.

The NTSB will continue collecting information on the crash. So too will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which opened a probe into the collision almost immediately.

[Images: Tesla, NTSB]


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