Tesla Model X in California crash sped up prior to impact

Source NTSB  S. Engleman

Source NTSB S. Engleman

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report detailing the fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X in March.

Federal investigators say the driver of a Tesla with its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature engaged did not have his hands on the wheel in the seconds before he struck a divider on a California highway.

The crash attenuator was already severely damaged from a prior traffic incident, and this likely increased the amount of damage suffered by the Tesla and by its driver, who later succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital. At four seconds before the crash, the auto was no longer following the lead vehicle and at three seconds the cars speed increased from 100 Km/h to 114 Km/h.

The safety board is investigating four Tesla crashes since past year and looking at post-crash fire issues and the use of Autopilot.

Previous to the impact, the Tesla was tracking the vehicle in front of it in the carpool at 65 miles-per-hour eight seconds before the crash.

The Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip, including a continuous operation for the last 18 minutes 55 seconds prior to the crash.

In the minute leading up to the crash, investigators said Huang had placed his hands on the steering wheel three separate times, for a total of 34 seconds, but he didn't touch the steering wheel in the six seconds leading up to the crash.

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As the vehicle approached an area where two lanes diverged and became separated by a highway barrier, the vehicle moved to the left and drove on a path that would lead it directly into the barrier's crash attenuator - which is created to limit the impact from collisions - which had been damaged in another collision less than two weeks earlier.

The NTSB findings indicate that Autopilot steered the vehicle towards the crash attenuator and accelerated. Four seconds before the crash the Tesla wasn't following a vehicle any more. At the time, a company spokesperson said Tesla meant to file an official complaint with the federal government.

In April, the NTSB removed Tesla as a party to its investigation of Huang's crash after the automaker made public statements.

The investigation is ongoing and could lead to the NTSB issuing new safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents. "The focus is on what led to this crash and how do we prevent it from happening again".

In one of the disputed statements, Tesla said "the crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the vehicle providing multiple warnings to do so".

In January, a Tesla Model S sedan that may have been using Autopilot hit a parked firetruck on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles.

According to the Associated Press, Tesla says it's vehicles and systems are not to blame; the drivers are.

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