This Thursday a new report has been published by the National Council for Transportation Security in which they point out that on March 1, a vehicle with the Autopilot system, the autonomous Tesla Model 3 crashed into a truck. The accident occurred on a highway in Florida (United States) causing the death of its driver, Jeremy Beren Banner.
According to the report, the Autopilot system was active when the vehicle collided with a trailer truck. Investigators reviewed the on-board camera images and preliminary vehicle data and found that neither the driver nor the autopilot “executed evasive maneuvers” before the accident.
The Autopilot aboard the Model 3, according to the report, had been activated just 10 seconds before the crash: “From less than 8 seconds before the crash until the moment of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel,” he points out the NTSB. “The vehicle was traveling at 68 mph (109 km / h) when it crashed. The roof of the Model 3 broke off when it hit the trailer of the truck, went under and then stopped 1,600 feet (almost 490 meters) away. ”
In a statement, Tesla confirmed that series of events. “We are deeply sad about this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. Tesla drivers have logged over a billion miles with the autopilot activated, and our data shows that, when used by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, they are safer than those that operate without assistance. During the last three quarters, we have published quarterly safety data directly from our vehicles, which demonstrate this statement.”
With this, the deaths on board autonomous vehicles already total 4. The first one occurred in May 2016, in very similar circumstances: in Florida, with a Tesla vehicle (in this case a Model S) and in a crash against a truck in which Joshua Bown died.
The NTSB also opened a file in this case and its conclusions were quite clear: “The NHTSA exam did not identify any design or performance defects … or incidents in which [Autopilot] systems did not work as designed.”
In addition to automatic brakes and collision warnings, autopilot systems include adaptive cruise control and automatic steering to keep the car in the center of its lane. The report notes that autopilot systems require that the driver be attentive and prepared to take control and that their limitations are specified in the owner’s manual. In this case the system took two minutes without detecting the presence of the driver’s hands on the steering wheel: the last action was to set the cruising speed to 74 mph (119 km / h). In the case of Jeremy Beren Banner, only 10 seconds had passed.
Regarding the first accident, Tesla said that for the system, visualizing a white trailer against a clear sky, was a more complex challenge than it was prepared to solve.
The third incident occurred on March 23, 2018 when Wei Huang was driving a Model X (Tesla) in Mountain View, California. According to the NTSB report, “Huang’s hands were detected on the wheel for a total of 34 seconds, on three different occasions, in the 60 seconds prior to impact.” The NTSB also confirms Tesla’s position that the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the crash. It is also true that there were two visual alerts and an auditory alert for the driver to place their hands on the wheel, but those alerts were made more than 15 minutes before the crash.
This is an important point highlighted by the experts of Tesla and the NTSB: the Autopilot system, despite being an autonomous driving system, requires that the driver have his hands on the wheel at all times and be able to react to an emergency.
Finally, the fourth accident was on January 20, 2016, a crash against a cleaning truck and caused the death of Gao Yaning. The crash occurred in Handan, China. When happening in another country the NTSB did not carry out a report. What is known is through Tesla. In this case the Autopilot was also activated and that warned the driver several times. Per the images of the on-board camera, it is known that neither the driver nor the Autopilot performed any maneuver despite the fact that the cleaning vehicle “could be seen for almost 20 seconds.”
After the accident, Tesla updated the system so that if a driver ignores repeated warnings to regain control of the vehicle, he cannot use the autopilot for the rest of the trip.