Authorities remove Tesla from fatal Autopilot crash investigation

Elon Musk's firm has drawn an angry response for saying the fatal Model X crash was the driver's fault. AP

Elon Musk's firm has drawn an angry response for saying the fatal Model X crash was the driver's fault. AP

Tesla has withdrawn from the National Transportation Safety Board's "party agreement" related to the recent fatal Model X Autopilot accident.

On March 23, a Tesla Model X driver died after his vehicle drifted from its intended driving path and plowed into a concrete highway barrier.

"Today, Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively", the company said.

Tesla is targeting November 2019 as the start of production for its Model Y sport utility vehicle, with production in China to begin two years later, two sources told Reuters this week, shedding some light on the electric vehicle maker's next project that could tax its resources and capacity.

The unusual move came two days after Tesla released its strongest statement yet, blaming the driver of the crashed auto, Apple engineer Walter Huang, for what happened.

The coverage from Reuters continues: "Tesla later said the auto had activated Autopilot, raising new questions about the semi-autonomous system that handles some driving tasks".

In addition to two previous statements on the March 23 collision, Tesla issued a statement on Tuesday saying, "according to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not ideal and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location [of the collision], yet he nonetheless engaged Autopilot" there.

Being a party to an investigation allows a company to fully participate in the investigation process, sharing information with the agency and viewing information uncovered by NTSB while the investigation is still ongoing. Tesla has offered no official comment on the Model Y's production timeline.

Agency chairman Robert Sumwalt said he had called Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday night to tell him his company was being ousted as a party to the investigation. Tesla claims it will file a complaint about the NTSB to Congress. The company isn't technically wrong here; Autopilot does indeed rattle off both audio and visual notifications when a driver removes their hands from the wheel.

"It's mostly, like, people cancel because, you know, they just needed a vehicle and we didn't have a auto for them", he said. Tesla says it chose to withdraw and accused the safety agency of being "more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety". NHTSA pinned the crash on driver error, saying the system wasn't defective.

In a letter sent to Tesla, the agency referred to statements made by the automaker "on or about April 10" regarding the crash. The company continues to intend to abandon the scheme using 12-volt batteries, which now applies to all Tesla vehicles. The firms are also checking the battery fire that followed the crash. In May 2016, a Tesla Model S running Autopilot crashed into a truck turning across its path, killing its driver, Josh Brown.

At issue is the NTSB's investigation into the fatal crash of a Tesla that was in Autopilot mode. "Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents - such a standard would be impossible - but it makes them much less likely to occur". The regulatory body for the automotive industry in the United States is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with whom we have a strong and positive relationship.

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