What Does NTSB vs Tesla Story Actually Mean For & About Tesla?

Tesla Model X CrashWe reported last week on the news that the National Transportation Safety Board was reportedly “not happy” about Tesla releasing some of the information that it had released about the recent auto crash and fatality.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had apparently not considered it to be Tesla’s right to release information about crashes to the public.

Following that announcement from the NTSB, it appears that Tesla has now been removed as a party in the investigation of the aforementioned Tesla Model X Autopilot accident in California. Or, an alternative way to read it, Tesla resigned from the investigation.

Before the NTSB released a statement on the matter, though, Tesla beat them to it. Tesla released a statement that noted that it withdrew from the investigation owing to the fact that the party agreement required “that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively.”

The later NTSB statement explained the situation a bit differently, stating that Tesla had “violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB.”

That statement continued by arguing that such releases 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.”

Reuters provides a bit more: “NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told Reuters on Tuesday the NTSB had a good working relationship with Tesla, but companies must follow the rules if they are a formal party to investigations. He and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk had spoken with each other over the weekend.

“In its statement, Tesla said ‘an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable. Even though we won’t be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.'”

In related news, it has been revealed that the family of the man that was killed in the accident in question has hired lawyers. The idea, apparently, is that Tesla’s Autopilot system is solely to blame for his death.

All of that is the background — the details of this specific case — but what does it mean for Tesla? And what does it mean about Tesla?

As far as Tesla [TSLA] stock, the details of this story and Tesla’s approach to this case don’t seem to be influencing investors one way or another. It’s unclear how much the results of the NTSB investigation would or will influence the public’s perception of Tesla vehicles or Tesla’s own ability to diagnose or improve technological weaknesses, but it seems that Tesla would have the investigation resources in-house that it needs and that it’s expected to handle technical investigations like this adequately itself. So, what would change one way or another for Tesla if it took one approach to the investigation versus another? It seems not much.

As far as what the divergence in approach means about Tesla, that seems like a less clear matter. It might mean that Tesla is indeed very concerned about being open and clear with the public, and that it prioritized revealing details about the Model X accident and fatality out of a sense of duty. Or it might mean that, as the NTSB argues, revealing such information was premature and might lead to misunderstandings about the accident. Was Tesla simply being transparent or was it being a bit reckless in order to try to get out in front of the story in a way that benefits its public image? That’s the judgement call that people have been making one way or another. It’s easy to take the rosy route or the cynical route. It would be nice if we could just get a straight answer on that and know that it’s true, but this is the real world, so we’re left with a judgement call that we each have to make for ourselves.

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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