US NTSB: Tesla Model S Driver In Fatal 2016 Autopilot Crash Was Warned 7 Times During Trip About Not Having Hands On Wheel

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The man who was killed last year in the much publicized Tesla Model S Autopilot crash had been visually warned 7 separate times (including 6 auditory warnings) during the trip about not having his hands on the wheel, according to a new 500 page report from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The report reveals that during the 37-minute portions of the trip when the driver Joshua Brown was required to have his hands on the driving wheel, he only did so for 25 seconds.

As you’ll probably recall, the driver, Joshua Brown (a former Navy SEAL), was killed in a May 2016 collision with a semi truck near Williston, Florida, one that saw the whole top half of the Tesla Model S in question completely sheared off. This collision happened when Tesla’s Autopilot feature was engaged, which led to much speculation about the safety of the system (and related ones).

Reuters provides more: “The report said the Autopilot mode remained on during most of his trip and that it gave him to a visual warning seven separate times that said ‘Hands Required Not Detected.’

“In six cases, the system then sounded a chime before it returned to ‘Hands Required Detected’ for one to three second periods.

“Tesla in September unveiled improvements in Autopilot, adding new limits on hands-off driving and other features that its chief executive officer said likely would have prevented the crash death. The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car. …

“In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it had found no evidence of defects in the aftermath of Brown’s death. NHTSA said Brown did not apply the brakes and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles (119 km) per hour less than two minutes before the crash — above the 65 mph speed limit.

“The agency said the truck should have been visible to Brown for at least seven seconds before impact. Brown ‘took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision,’ the report said. A Florida Highway Patrol spokesman said the truck driver was charged with a right of way traffic violation. He is due for a court hearing on Wednesday.”

So, the NTSB and NHTSA findings tell us essentially the same thing — the driver, unfortunately, seemed to not be using the Autopilot feature in the way that it was designed to be used.

That said, “half-autonomous” systems such as the current Tesla Autopilot feature are probably confusing for some people, so the sooner that the tech advances to the point that drivers won’t need to constantly monitor the situation, the better. Presumably, that’s something that will occur within the next decade or so.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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