​SEC probing Tesla for potential securities breach with Autopilot fatality

Did Tesla incorrectly handle breaking recent Autopilot-related crash news to its investors?

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is taking a closer look at Tesla Motors, according to a report Monday from The Wall Street Journal, after the automaker failed to notify its investors in a timely manner of a fatal crash involving an owner using electric car's semi-autonomous Autopilot system.

On May 7, a 40-year old driver fatally collided with a semi-truck that drove across the Florida highway ahead of his vehicle, a Tesla Model S using the Autopilot driver assist system. Tesla learned of and alerted auto-safety investigators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the death on May 16, but didn't alert its investors until after a $2 billion stock sale -- including nearly 2.8 billion shares of stock sold by Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- on May 18-19. The SEC thinks that all looks a bit hinky.

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Tesla's retort takes the form of a post last week on the company's official blog rebutting a Fortune article that asks many of the same questions as the SEC's investigation.

The automaker states that when it contacted NHTSA about the accident on May 16, it had "barely started" its own internal investigation. According to Tesla, the extent of the damage to the vehicle limited the the ability to remotely recover data and that "it was not until May 18th that a Tesla investigator was able to go to Florida to inspect the car and the crash site and pull the complete vehicle logs from the car" to determine whether the Autopilot system was active. Tesla's timeline of the events adds yet a week more until the review of those logs was completed during the last week of May.

A post on Tesla's official blog from June 30 acknowledges the incident publicly.

Much of the confusion comes from the fact that there's no precedent standard for the handling of an autonomous driving fatality. Most automakers don't disclose traffic fatality data to investors. Tesla states that this single fatal crash in more than 130 million miles is at a "'better-than-human' threshold" when compared to the fatality every 94 million miles among all vehicles in the US.