The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system was one of the probable causes of a fatal 2018 crash into a concrete barrier. In addition, the safety board said the driver was playing a mobile game while using Autopilot before the crash, and investigators also determined he was overly confident in Autopilot’s capabilities.
The safety board arrived at those probable causes after a nearly two-year investigation into the crash. NTSB investigators also named a number of contributing factors, including that the crash attenuator in front of the barrier was damaged and had not been repaired by California’s transportation department, Caltrans, in a timely manner. Had the crash attenuator been replaced, NTSB investigators said Tuesday that the driver, Walter Huang, likely would have survived.
The NTSB shared its findings at the end of a three-hour-long hearing on Tuesday. During the hearing, board members took issue with Tesla’s approach to mitigating the misuse of Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s lax approach to regulating partial automation technology, and Apple — Huang’s employer — for not having a distracted driving policy. (Huang was playing the mobile game on a company-issued iPhone.)
“In this crash we saw an over-reliance on technology, we saw distraction, we saw a lack of policy prohibiting cell phone use while driving, and we saw infrastructure failures, which, when combined, led to this tragic loss,” NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the end of the hearing on Tuesday. “We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving their Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken where necessary. It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars.”