Tesla Motor’s Autopilot system has been cleared in a deadly crash eight months ago, in which a car crashed while operating in the computer assistance mode. Federal regulators said they found no defects in the system that could have caused the accident, and indicated that Tesla’s Autopilot-capable vehicles did not need to be recalled.
Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, has advocated for the ability of Tesla’s vehicles to prevent accidents using their advanced technology, and the May 2016 accident represented a setback in these efforts, garnering widespread media attention. The new findings should help to clear the reputation of Tesla’s Autopilot system.
However, federal regulators cautioned that such driver-assistance systems can only be relied on to react properly in certain road situations. They said that automakers need to fully understand the correct ways to put such systems into use.
Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which investigated last year’s accident, warned:
“Not all systems can do all things. There are driving scenarios that automatic emergency braking systems are not designed to address.”
In particular, Thomas cautioned that Tesla’s driver-assistance software, called Autopilot, was not adept at handling situations involving crossing traffic, despite proficiency in preventing Tesla’s vehicles from rear-ending other cars. He said such situations “are beyond the performance capabilities of the system.”
“Autopilot requires full driver engagement at all times,” he cautioned.
Autopilot uses camera and radar to avoid obstacles and other vehicles, with the ability to brake, accelerate, and pass other vehicles automatically. It is able to track highway lines to stay within the boundaries of lanes. Autopilot was first introduced in October of 2015.
The May accident killed driver Joshua Brown, 40, from Ohio. He was driving his Tesla Model S, using its Autopilot system, when the car collided with a truck crossing the road ahead of his car. Tesla explained that the car’s camera did not recognize the white truck in front of a bright sky. However, regulators found in their investigation that Brown was failing to pay attention to the road at the time. His cruise control had been set at 74 miles per hour, and regulators said he should have had 7 seconds to notice and avoid the truck ahead of him. Both the driver and the Autopilot failed to apply the brakes – but Autopilot was still found to have performed as intended, and was not considered to have a defect.
The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash, and has not yet reached a conclusion.