NTSB: Autopilot Engaged at Time of Fatal Florida Tesla Crash

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
ntsb autopilot engaged at time of fatal florida tesla crash

A fatal March collision between a Tesla and a semi trailer that bore a strong resemblance to a crash in the same state three year earlier was more similar than initially thought.

Following the March 1st collision between a Tesla Model 3 and a semi on US 441 in Delray Beach, Florida, in which the car underrode a trailer crossing the divided roadway, the National Transportation Safety Board went to work. A preliminary report is now out, confirming suspicions that, like the 2016 crash, the car was under the guidance of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist system at the time of the crash.

The NTSB report claims the semi trailer was pulling out of a driveway belonging to an agricultural facility, crossing the southbound lanes in order to make a left turn onto northbound US 441.

“According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path,” the report states.

“The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south (figure 2). The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. The 45-year-old male driver of the combination vehicle was uninjured.”

According to crash investigators, the Tesla driver activated Autopilot — a combination of lane-holding and adaptive cruise control — “about” 10 seconds before the collision. The driver’s hands were off the steering wheel for the 8 seconds preceding the impact.

“Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers,” the report states.

The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 55 mph.

As in the May 2016 Florida crash that killed Joshua Brown, it seems the Tesla’s camera and non-LIDAR sensors did not pick up the trailer crossing the road directly in front of it. There are differences between the two crashes. The recent crash occurred at 6:17 a.m., some 27 minutes before sunrise. In the earlier crash, the Tesla impacted the semi trailer in broad daylight. As well, the NTSB determined that Brown had his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds of the 37 minute trip, receiving numerous visual and audio warnings during that time.

It seems the Delray Beach driver was not in Autopilot mode long enough to receive the hands-on-wheel prompt. Regardless, it didn’t change the outcome.

The NTSB will continue collecting information on the crash. So too will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which opened a probe into the collision almost immediately.

[Images: Tesla, NTSB]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 17, 2019

    Unfortunately, as a Level 2 system it doesn't need to actually work. These accidents will always be driver error.

  • THX1136 THX1136 on May 17, 2019

    If I did the math correctly, why would the driver activate AutoPilot a mere 16.6 ft from the other vehicle. Rate of speed = 68mph which would be 1.66 feet/second. At 10 seconds he would have been 16.6 feet away. If that's right (and I'm not sure that it is) maybe the driver figured AP would stop him faster than he could??

    • SPPPP SPPPP on May 22, 2019

      It's the wrong math. It's 100 feet per second. 68 * 5280 / (60 * 60) = 99.73.

  • MaintenanceCosts Despite my hostile comments above I really can't wait to see a video of one of these at the strip. A production car running mid-eights is just bats. I just hope that at least one owner lets it happen, rather than offloading the car from the trailer straight into a helium-filled bag that goes into a dark secured warehouse until Barrett-Jackson 2056.
  • Schurkey Decades later, I'm still peeved that Honda failed to recall and repair the seat belts in my '80 Civic. Well-known issue with the retractors failing to retract.Honda cut a deal with the NHTSA at that time, to put a "lifetime warranty" on FUTURE seat belts, in return for not having to deal with the existing problems.Dirtbags all around. Customers screwed, corporation and Government moves on.
  • Bullnuke An acquaintance of mine 50+ years ago who was attending MIT (until General Hershey's folks sent him his "Greetings" letter) converted an Austin Mini from its staid 4 cylinder to an electric motored fuel cell vehicle. It was done as a project during his progression toward a Master Degree in Electrical Engineering. He told me it worked pretty well but wasn't something to use as a daily driver given the technology and availability of suitable components of the time. Fueling LH2 and LOX was somewhat problematic. Upon completion he removed his fuel cell and equipment and, for another project, reinstalled the 4 banger but reassembled it without mechanical fasteners using an experimental epoxy adhesive instead which, he said, worked much better and was a daily driver...for awhile. He went on to be an enlisted Reactor Operator on a submarine for a few years.
  • Ajla $100k is walking around money but this is almost certainly the last Dodge V8 vehicle and it's likely to be the most powerful factory-installed and warrantied pushrod engine ever. So there is some historical applicability to things even if you have an otherwise low opinion of the Challenger.And, like I said up thread, if you still hate it will be gone soon anyway.
  • Carlson Fan GM completely blew the marketing of the Volt. The commercials were terrible. You'd swear they told the advertising company to come up with an ad that would make sure no one went out and shopped a Volt after seeing it!...........LOL My buddy asked why I bought a car that only goes 40 miles on a charge? That pretty much sums up how confusing and uninformative the advertising was.