Following an investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model 3 and a semi-truck, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that the autopilot feature in the Model 3 was in fact engaged at the time of the accident.
Interestingly, the Model 3 was traveling 68 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone on US 441 in Delray Beach, Florida. The southbound highway where the accident happened consists of two lanes, with two more lanes going northbound, separated by a grass median. There is also a turn lane that heads into a private driveway where the accident occurred.
"As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes. According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path," NTSB says.
At that point, the Tesla vehicle drove underneath the tractor trailer, causing the roof to be sheared off the car. It also resulted in the death of the 50-year-old male who was behind the steering wheel of the Model 3. Fortunately for the 45-year-old truck driver, he was uninjured.
Preliminary data from the Model 3 indicates that the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) had been activated around 10 seconds before the fatal accident.
"From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers," NTSB said.
The situation is similar to another fatal accident in 2016, in which a Tesla driver crashed into a semi truck in Florida. In that instance, the NTSB also determined that the vehicle's autopilot feature was engaged.
In a statement provided to ZDNet, a spokesperson for Tesla said it informed the NTSB that in this recent incident, autopilot was engaged shortly before the crash occurred and that the driver immediately removed his hands from the steering wheel. It was the only time autopilot had been used during that particular commute.
"We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also noted that "Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance."
Tesla's stance is that the autopilot feature is not meant to have complete control of a vehicle at all times, and that the driver should remain attentive and ready to take over driving duties as needed. Sadly, that did not happen in this case.