Tesla, NTSB clash over Autopilot investigation

Elon Musk's firm has drawn an angry response for saying the fatal Model X crash was the driver's fault. AP

Tesla lashed out at the National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday after the agency took the unusual step of removing the automaker as a party to its investigation of a fatal crash in March in which a Tesla vehicle's "Autopilot" system was in use.

Walter Huang was killed when his Model X SUV crashed on March 23 into a concrete lane divider on Highway 101 in Mountain View, California.

The reason behind the NTSB's decision is that Tesla violated the agreement of the investigation by releasing information before it was confirmed and approved by the NTSB.

The NTSB said Tesla was removed from the investigation because releasing investigative information before it is vetted and confirmed by government regulators can produce "incomplete information" that can often lead to "speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public".

Bloomberg's source says the NTSB will issue a press release some time on Thursday addressing Tesla's departure.

The advisory group pulled the electric auto maker from the investigation after Tesla continued to release information about the crash, including a post on the company blog confirming that the vehicle was in Autopilot mode.

As is usually the case with these kinds of incidents, Tesla is off course trying to shift blame away from itself, and in this case is placing it on the deceased driver.


Agency chairman Robert Sumwalt said he had called Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday night to tell him his company was being ousted as a party to the investigation. We will also be issuing a Freedom Of Information Act request to understand the reasoning behind their focus on the safest cars in America while they ignore the cars that are the least safe. Tesla said it had made improvements in the system since the crash. To save time and cost, Tesla made the risky bet to skip a pre-production testing phase for the Model 3 in order to advance straight to production tooling, which is harder to fix if problems arise, as Reuters first reported past year. The lawyer said he doesn't expect to file the complaint until the NTSB wraps up its investigation. So it's easy to imagine the NTSB will come to a similar conclusion once it's done investigating Huang's death, painting Tesla's innovative system in a damning light. The company has also argued that the victim in the Model X crash is exclusively responsible for the accident, with the damaged highway divider to blame for its severity - not the Model X, which apparently steered itself into the concrete divider at highway speed.

Tesla requires drivers to take care of their eyes on the road and palms on the wheel even when using the autopilot system.

When tested by NHTSA, Model S and Model X each received five stars not only overall but in every sub-category. Tesla says there is one auto death in the US for every 86 million miles driven, but for Tesla vehicles, it's one death for every 320 million miles.

Peter Knudson, a spokesperson for NTSB, told BuzzFeed News the agency became aware of the statement Wednesday after a local media outlet reached out for comment.

Federal safety investigators have booted electric auto maker Tesla Inc. from the group investigating a fatal crash in California that involved an SUV operating with the company's Autopilot system.

Tesla is no longer part of the probe into the fatal accident, according to a statement the company released this week. In 2009, the NTSB revoked the party status of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in the investigation of a midair collision over the Hudson River.

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