It's been tough times for
Autopilot for the last few months after a number of crashes involving the technology, some of which were fatal, made the news. One crash in particular in Mountain View, California, involving a Model X on a well-mapped stretch of road gave some cause for concern, enough that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation into it, an investigation from which Tesla was eventually excluded.
The preliminary results of that NTSB investigation have been released, and they are concerning. Notably, the data from the crashed vehicle shows that the driver had his hands on the wheel three times in the 60 seconds leading up to the crash, but for the last six seconds, his hands were not on the wheel. Also interesting is that Autopilot had been following a vehicle at 65 miles per hour and then began to steer itself left toward a crash attenuator and accelerated to just over 70 mph.
The crash attenuator was already severely damaged from a prior traffic incident, and this likely increased the amount of damage suffered by the Tesla and by its driver, who later succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital.
While it's easy to make snap judgments and point fingers, it's still not totally clear why Walter Huang's Model X performed in this way. It's also worth noting that Tesla has made numerous updates to Autopilot since the crash in March, so the version of the software that was being used by Mr. Huang's vehicle is no longer in service.
While the technology behind advanced driver assistance systems like Autopilot is incredible, and the systems themselves are helpful in many situations, it's important to remember that they aren't perfect and that drivers that are utilizing them need to remain attentive and ready to re-engage at a moment's notice – for their safety and the safety of others.
Tesla's spokespeople declined to comment on the NTSB's findings, and instead referred us to the company's blog post on the subject.