Last May, Joshua Brown was killed in a crash when his Tesla Model S in Autopilot collided with a tractor-trailer. After an investigation that took over half of a year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their findings today.
In a report, NHTSA said they didn't find any evidence of defects with the Autopilot system. The agency also stated that they would not ask Tesla to perform a recall on models equipped with Autopilot.
In a statement, Tesla said "the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion."
NHTSA's report revealed that neither Autopilot nor Brown applied the brakes to prevent or lessen the impact of the crash. However, NHTSA cleared the Automatic Emergency Braking system as it's “designed to avoid or mitigate rear end collisions” but that “braking for crossing path collisions, such as that present in the Florida fatal crash, are outside the expected performance capabilities of the system.”
Speaking of Brown, NHTSA's report said that he did not any action with steering or anything else to prevent this. The last recorded action in the vehicle was the cruise control being set to 74 mph. NHTSA notes that in their reconstruction of the crash, Brown had seven seconds to from seeing the tractor trailer to the moment of the impact, giving him possible chance to take some sort of action.
This brings up a very serious concern of how much confidence owners give the Autopilot system. Despite Tesla having statements such as that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times," and that "you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it," various videos showing Model Ss narrowly avoiding crashes have caused people to think that Autopilot was fully autonomous - which it isn't.
“Although perhaps not as specific as it could be, Tesla has provided information about system limitations in the owner’s manuals, user interface and associated warnings/alerts, as well as a driver monitoring system that is intended to aid the driver in remaining engaged in the driving task at all times. Drivers should read all instructions and warnings provided in owner’s manuals for ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) technologies and be aware of system limitations,” said NHTSA.
Tesla, to its credit, has been updating Autopilot to make drivers pay attention when using it. These include increasing the warnings for a driver to intervene when needed, and turning off the system if a driver doesn't respond to repeated requests.