One of the more highly publicized recent Tesla autopilot crashes was that of a Tesla Model S with autopilot features that hit a firetruck in LA. Though no one was hurt, the driver was lucky to make it out without serious injury.
Now, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released part of its findings from an investigation into the crash.
It turns out the driver had autopilot activated, and had their hands off the wheel most of the last few minutes before the crash.
The crash report
The new report seems to confirm what many had suspected: the driver wasn't paying the required attention while allowing his Tesla to drive him.
While working a freeway accident this morning, Engine 42 was struck by a #Tesla traveling at 65 mph. The driver reports the vehicle was on autopilot. Amazingly there were no injuries! Please stay alert while driving! #abc7eyewitness#ktla#CulverCity#distracteddrivingpic.twitter.com/RgEmd43tNe— Culver City Firefighters (@CC_Firefighters) January 22, 2018
The NTSB tweeted yesterday that they released part of the findings, with the final accident brief to be published today.
Public docket opened Tuesday, for investigation of Jan. 22, 2018, Culver City, California, highway crash involving a Tesla & Culver City Fire Dept. fire truck; https://t.co/UbgF0ll9dA. Final accident brief, including probable cause, slated to publish Sept. 4, 2019.— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) September 3, 2019
The study, which established that autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash, also established that the driver of the Tesla Model S only had his hands on the wheel — as prescribed by Tesla — for 51 seconds of the final 13 minutes and 48 seconds of the drive.
What's more, the driver didn't have his hands on the wheel at all for the last 3 minutes and 41 seconds before the crash.
When questioned by the NTSB what he was doing before the crash, the driver is quoted as having said:
"I was having a coffee and a bagel. And all I remember, that truck, and then I just saw the boom in my face and that was it."
Is rebranding necessary?
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that there's a bit of confusion surrounding Tesla's autopilot feature and other similar advanced driver assistance systems.
The name 'autopilot' might suggest that a driver can sit back and completely relax while their car takes over when really they need to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention.
While Tesla isn't fully to blame here — the driver should have been paying attention — some have argued that the branding of the driver assistance software is misleading.
Thankfully, in the case of the firetruck crash driver, he was able to escape unscathed, and will no doubt now pay closer attention to the road in the future.