NHTSA’s Tesla Autopilot Death Investigation Comes to a Close

Tesla AutoPilot cruise control

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.”


  1. LS1Fan says:

    In related news,somewhere a NHTSA administrator is shopping for Hawaii vacation packages………

  2. e30gator says:

    Haters be hatin

  3. orenwolf says:

    That’s right, there are literally no scientists, organizations, or government oficials in the entire world who are not corrupt. Every single outcome is fixed, every story fake. Might as well turn off the tv and the internet – 0% of it is true, it’s all a dark conspiracy.

  4. Vulpine says:

    Oh, are the anti-Tesla zealots going to be in an uproar over this. The system performed as designed and the sole cause of the crash (discounting other driver’s error) was the operator’s inattention to the car’s operation.

  5. raph says:

    Wasn’t that the early prognosis? Nature took it’s course and culled an unfit member of the species.

  6. psarhjinian says:

    Well, yes and no. The system continued to operate in a situation when it probably shouldn’t have, or at least operated differently.
    This isn’t really a bug, but you could see how it could have done better.

  7. fishfry smith says:

    Better? Absolutely. You can bet I’d like my automated braking system to brake for semi-trucks blocking the road. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
    I own a Tesla and was not amused to learn that the autopilot / auto brake could not detect the tractor trailer against the sky.

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