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A new investigative report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says three seconds before a Tesla Model X on Autopilot slammed into a concrete barrier in Silicon Valley back in March killing the driver, the vehicle accelerated and the brakes weren’t applied. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, there was no evidence of evasive action moments before the crash. The deadly car accident took the life of Walter Huang, a 38-year-old software engineer at Apple.
No Warnings Before Crash
The investigation is by no means over and there are several questions that remain in this case. The report states Huang had the Tesla SUV’s Autopilot engaged continuously for 19 minutes before the vehicle struck the barrier. Autopilot is a semi-autonomous feature that includes adaptive cruise control. It can automatically change lanes to pass cars on a freeway. During the 19-minute period, the Autopilot apparently flashed two visual alerts and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive.
But that was 15 minutes before the crash. There were no warnings right before the collision. In fact, three seconds before the crash, the car accelerated from 62 mph to 70.8 mph. The brakes weren’t applied and the car plowed into the barrier. The Model X then became engulfed in flames that originated in the vehicle’s battery pack. Huang was transported to an area hospital where he died from his injuries. Investigators said in their report that the Tesla’s battery was smoldering even five days after the crash. Firefighters had to be called to douse the fire.
Questions About Autopilot Safety
There are several questions investigators are still trying to answer here. Were Huang’s hands on the wheel during the seven seconds before the crash? Did any of the vehicle’s sensors detect an object ahead? Experts not that many Autopilot crashes involving Tesla vehicles involve the car slamming into a stationary object.
This was the case in two recent crashes, one in Culver City where a Tesla on Autopilot rammed into a parked fire truck and another in Utah where a Model S once again crashed into a parked fire truck. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has maintained that the cars are safer with Autopilot than without it. However, safety experts say there is insufficient date to prove that statistically.
As auto defect lawyers, we hope these crucial questions are answered during the course of this investigation. Emerging automobile technologies, however promising they might be, should not be tested out by humans on public roadways. If these technologies are not ready to for primetime, they are simply not ready. Testing out these technologies should never come at the cost of human lives.