When the fatal car crash involving a Tesla Model S sedan made headlines last fall, we posted about the accident and predicted that government authorities would classify the crash as being caused by driver error rather than an issue with the “Autopilot” system.

Our prediction turned out to be correct.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was still investigating the incident when we first posted about it, but on January 19, NHTSA closed its preliminary evaluation, which found that driver error was responsible.

Still, the performance of Automated Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS, is an area of intense regulatory interest, and it was therefore not surprising to see NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation deploy a special crash investigations team to reconstruct the accident.

Several news reports have characterized NHTSA as having “exonerated” or “cleared” Tesla of any wrongdoing in connection with the crash. Officially, NHTSA merely closed the investigation, noting that it reached no conclusion about whether a defect existed and retained its right to reopen the investigation later.

That said, NHTSA was clearly satisfied with the performance of Tesla’s ADAS system during the crash, which allowed the agency to close its investigation.
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After 130 million miles driven without a fatality, Tesla Autopilot’s perfect track record ended tragically on May 7 with the first fatal crash of a car using Autopilot. Given the infrequency of fatal crashes involving autonomous vehicles, why are commentators suggesting that the auto industry “put the brakes” on this technology?

That’s unclear, especially with the facts here. Autopilot has a better safety record than human drivers. Overall, drivers in the United States cause one fatality roughly every 93 million miles. This was Autopilot’s first fatal accident in over 130 million miles driven.
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