NTSB (USA): Over-reliance on technology led to Tesla crash

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) - an independent U.S. government investigative agency, has come up with a report on the May 7, 2016 crash that killed a Tesla driver when his car collided with a truck. The car's autopilot function was engaged at the time of the crash.

In the crash, a 2015 Tesla Model S 70D car struck a semitrailer. At the time of collision, the truck was making a left turn from the highway. The car struck the right side of the truck, crossed below it, and then went off the road. The impact with the underside of the semitrailer tore off the roof of the car.

The report indicates that the crash was a result of the truck driver not yielding to the car and the Tesla driver's lack of attention and over-reliance on vehicle automation. The frequent and excessive use of the autopilot function resulted in the driver getting too dependent on the technology and not paying attention on the road. The board not only faulted the Tesla driver for not paying attention, but also noted that the autopilot did not do an adequate job of detecting other traffic. The system also did not inform the driver early enough to allow for enough reaction time.

The board issued seven suggestions at the hearing - including three for Tesla and every other automaker that offers a level 2 self-driving car. The Society of Automobile Engineers defines 6 levels of automation from fully manual to fully autonomous. In a level 2 system, the car controls the steering, acceleration and braking, but it is the human that is responsible for monitoring the surroundings and he/she must be ready to take over in case the system fails. The NTSB board suggested that manufacturers should not let a product be used, in a manner that is "inconsistent with its design." The board members also asked for recommendation on systems for deciding whether drivers are actually paying attention behind the wheel.

A board member mentioned that Tesla allowed the driver to use the autopilot system outside the environment for which it was designed. Tesla has said that the company will work towards making customers understand that autopilot is not a fully autonomous system, but needs the driver to be attentive at all times.

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