The driver engaged Autopilot shortly before the crash.
Tesla’s Autopilot system has convinced many of its owners that the company’s cars are now fully autonomous. While the car may be able to handle itself on the road for a limited time with the driver’s hands off the wheel, you do still need to pay attention to the road. What’s more, the system itself is not foolproof. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a preliminary report on a deadly March 1 accident involving a Tesla Model 3 and a semi truck.
The accident took place on U.S. Highway 441 in Delray Beach, Florida. The Tesla struck a truck that was trying to pull out onto the divided highway, ultimately shearing the roof off the car and killing the 50-year-old driver. The truck driver was uninjured.
Preliminary data from the crash shows the driver engaged the Autopilot system roughly 10 seconds before the crash. Tesla’s system uses sensors, camera and radar to judge its surroundings, and determines how to steer the car accordingly. With the Autopilot engaged, the Tesla was traveling 68 mph — the posted speed limit is 55 — when it hit the trailer, according to the report.
Neither the driver nor the Autopilot system took evasive action to prevent hitting the truck. The car did not detect the driver’s hands on the wheel at any point after engaging Autopilot.
Consequences of this Model 3 accident
The nature of this accident and others raises the question of whether hands-off autonomous systems are truly ready for widespread use. The NTSB is continuing to gather data on the crash, including the driver’s actions and how the Autopilot system functioned. The agency is also working with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the accident.
At this point, the NTSB investigation is just in its preliminary stages. Irrespective of the information in the report, there is nothing yet that conclusively blames Tesla’s Autopilot system for the crash. If anything, this is a reminder that, even when using these systems, drivers should always focus on the road.