Tesla involved in fatal crash sped up before hitting road barrier

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report (PDF) on the fatal accident that involved a Tesla Model X in Autopilot mode.

The investigation is ongoing and could lead to the NTSB issuing new safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents. The NTSB report confirms that, but does not speculate on how that affected the severity of the crash. In that report, investigators said the car's Autopilot system actually increased speed in the moments leading up to the crash and didn't attempt to brake or steer clear of the barrier.

The report said the Tesla vehicle's driver, a 38-year-old man, did not have his hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the auto slammed into a safety barrier called a crash attenuator, which separated the highway's carpool lane from an off-ramp.

In context: Tesla has drawn quite a bit of heat lately due to numerous crashes that have occurred with Autopilot engaged.

"The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe", Tesla's March blog post said. While the report does not make a ruling on the primary cause of the crash, it does offer a breakdown of everything that happened in the lead-up to the collision, which claimed the life of Walter Huang.

The Tesla was following a lead vehicle at about 105 km/h roughly 8 seconds prior to the crash. Its adaptive cruise control was set at 75 miles-per-hour.

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Huang's hands were detected on the wheel for just 34 seconds of the last minute before the crash, and his hands were not detected at all for the last six seconds before the crash, according to the report.

Tesla's Autopilot is a driver assistance system that handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel. The attenuator had been damaged 11 days earlier in a previous accident and hadn't been repaired, according to NTSB.

The Tesla continued traveling through the gore area until it struck a crash attenuator, which was mounted on the end of a concrete barrier, at a speed of approximately 71 miles per hour (114 km/h). Among other factors, investigators are trying to determine how the car's camera, radar and ultrasonic sensors were working and what they were tracking.

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

"The focus isn't Tesla's technology", he said. Notably, the car's Autopilot feature was engaged at the time of the crash. There was no braking or evasive steering detected prior to impact. Two other vehicles were damaged in the incident, with one driver suffering minor injuries. "It is the driver's responsibility to drive safely and remain in control of the vehicle at all times", it says.