Tesla Model X Accelerated Toward Barrier Before Fatal Crash

Source NTSB  S. Engleman

At the time, Autopilot was set to 75 miles per hour, according to the NTSB.

A fatal accident involving a Tesla Model X on Autopilot came under investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in March.

The preliminary report didn't include conclusions about what caused the crash.

On March 23 of this year, a Model X driving down a California freeway crashed into a highway divider at high speed.

The crash sparked a national debate over the challenges firefighters face when responding to electric vehicle crashes as well as whether Tesla owners can trust their vehicles' autopilot system.

The interior of a Tesla Model X 75D semi-autonomous electric vehicle is shown in January 2017.

Walter Huang, 38, who was wearing his seat belt, was pulled from the blue Tesla by bystanders before the auto was engulfed in flames.

While it's easy to make snap judgments and point fingers, it's still not totally clear why Walter Huang's Model X performed in this way.

The NTSB's preliminary report on the crash of a Tesla Model X on U.S. Highway 101 in the bay area suburb of Mountain View, Calif., indicates that Huang had the vehicle in it's semi-autonomous autopilot mode for almost 19 minutes before the crash.

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While the technology behind advanced driver assistance systems like Autopilot is incredible, and the systems themselves are helpful in many situations, it's important to remember that they aren't ideal and that drivers that are utilizing them need to remain attentive and ready to re-engage at a moment's notice - for their safety and the safety of others.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the NTSB report, and instead pointed to a blog post the company issued on March 30. Four seconds before the crash the Tesla wasn't following a vehicle any more.

"Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents - such a standard would be impossible - but it makes them much less likely to occur", the company wrote in the post.

In the days after the crash, Huang's wife Savonne said her husband had complained about the system not working properly near the area where the crash occurred.

Four seconds before the crash, the Tesla no longer detected a vehicle in front of it, and with the cruise control engaged and set at 75 mph, it began speeding up, from 62 mph three seconds before impact to 70.8 mph at the time of impact. In the final minute before the collision, hands were detected on the steering wheel for just 34 seconds.

Investigators said the Tesla slowed from 75 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour behind a slow-moving vehicle that struck the barrier at 71 miles per hour, which sheered off part of the auto. But that device had been damaged in a previous crash on March 12. A Tesla website says its vehicles have "full self-driving hardware".

In April, a Tesla Model S that struck a firetruck in Utah while in Autopilot mode may also have sped up before impact. Two other vehicles were damaged in the incident, with one driver suffering minor injuries.

Autopilot can steer and brake itself under certain circumstances, but requires drivers to periodically touch the steering wheel to indicate that they are paying attention. "Stationary objects are also a challenge for many adaptive cruise control systems and automated emergency braking systems", he said.

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