NHTSA Clears Tesla In Autopilot Death, Praises System’s Effectiveness

Tesla has plenty to be happy about today. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cleared Tesla’s semi-autonomous systems in a fatal crash last year. And, regulators said many nice things about the system.

A report on the incident lauded Autopilot, praised its design as well as the impact it was having in cutting the number of crashes involving Tesla vehicles. For example, NHTSA noted several times that crash rates involving Teslas had dipped sharply. Since the introduction of its semi-autonomous safety systems, the agency noted, accident rates involving Teslas have dropped by 40 percent.

NHTSA’s investigation, conducted by the Office of Defect Investigation (ODI), found no defects in the:

  • Design of the system.
  • Implementation of Tesla’s automatic braking systems (AEB) or in the Autopilot’s cruise features.

The report also notes that the automaker clearly had anticipated potentials for Autopilot misuse and had then incorporated that research into the rollout design.

The agency conducted an intensive study of the incident where a driver was killed when his Tesla swerved into the path of a semi. The driver apparently had assumed that the Tesla’s AEB and the Autopilot system were designed for total hands-off driving. However, the study found requirements ignored. Those requirements were for the driver to provide constant monitoring of the driving environment around the vehicle and to ensure his hands were on the steering wheel.

The results were great for Tesla. The automaker avoids a recall. And, the praise Tesla’s systems received was just icing on the cake.

As with most investigations, the regulators did find a minor quibble or two. For example, NHTSA did say the automaker could be a bit more specific about system limitations regarding driver-assist. However, it also noted the info is available to drivers and vehicle owners.


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