The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed the book on a six-month investigation into the death of a Tesla owner and enthusiast who died in a car piloted by the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system. What did the federal investigation uncover? Not enough to warrant a recall or further probing into the technology.
In fact, the NHTSA’s report clears Tesla’s Autopilot system of any responsibility in the incident.
Released earlier today, the full report actually praises Tesla’s semi-autonomous technology and notes a 40 percent decrease in traffic accidents involving the brand since Autopilot’s introduction. The investigation also found no defects in the design or implementation of Tesla’s automatic emergency braking systems or its assisted-cruise functionality.
While Reuters had already reported that the investigation would likely not result in a recall of any vehicles, the glowing praise from the NHTSA is unexpected. Numerous safety and consumer advocacy groups have been openly skeptical of the Autopilot system and of Tesla having done its due diligence before releasing it. Not so, according to the report.
Tesla even anticipated the potential for operator mishandling of the system and incorporated those factors into the software’s design. The company rolled out an update to that software in September by adding new limits on hands-free driving, audible warning tones, and other improvements that Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed could have prevented the fatality spurring the investigation.
Autopilot was introduced in October 2015 and became the focus of heavy scrutiny when it came to light that Joshua Brown, a Tesla Model S driver from Ohio, was involved in a fatal May 7 collision while using the technology. Brown’s Tesla struck a transport truck that was crossing the Florida highway in front of him.
Prior to the NHTSA’s release of its findings, a lawyer for Brown’s family said the family intends to evaluate all of the information from the investigation “before making any decisions or taking any position on these matters.”