NTSB Finds 2018 Tesla Crash Due To "Overreliance" On Autopilot And "Tesla’s Autopilot Design"

The NTSB released its final report today on a crash involving a Tesla Model S smashing into the back of a fire truck that took place in Culver City, CA, on January 22, 2018.

The agency concluded in its findings that the probable causes of the crash were the following:

  1. The Tesla driver’s lack of response to the stationary fire truck in his travel lane, due to inattention and overreliance on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system.
  2. The Tesla’s Autopilot design, which permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task
  3. And the driver’s use of the system in ways inconsistent with guidance and warnings from the manufacturer.

Here is how the NTSB characterized the accident in its final report:

About 8:40 a.m. on Monday, January 22, 2018, a 2014 Tesla Model S P85 car was traveling in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane of southbound Interstate 405 (I-405) in Culver City, California. The Tesla was behind another vehicle. Because of a collision in the northbound freeway lanes that happened about 25 minutes earlier, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) vehicle was parked on the left shoulder of southbound I-405, and a Culver City Fire Department truck was parked diagonally across the southbound HOV lane. The emergency lights were active on both the CHP vehicle and the fire truck. When the vehicle ahead of the Tesla changed lanes to the right to go around the fire truck, the Tesla remained in the HOV lane, accelerated, and struck the rear of the fire truck at a recorded speed of about 31 mph.

Yesterday, we reported that new details emerged in this case. Prior to the NTSB's preliminary report yesterday, it was unknown whether or not Autopilot played a part in the accident. Now, the NTSB final report confirms that it did. The driver was reported yesterday as "looking down" at "what appeared to be a mobile phone" while the car's Autopilot was engaged according to Bloomberg.

The report also finds that the Tesla's Automatic Emergency Braking system didn't activate during the event and that there was no driver-applied braking that took place before the crash either. 

In other words, neither the driver or the Autopilot did what it was supposed to. 

Tesla skeptics immediately took note of this:  

At the time of the accident, the driver had told investigators that he wasn't using his phone and was looking forward, but could have been holding "a coffee or a bagel". 

But the driver had engaged Autopilot, which had been active for 13 minutes and 48 seconds prior to the accident. The driver's hands were not on the wheel for the "majority of the time" it was engaged, according to Tesla data provided to the NTSB. 

A witness at the time of the crash said the Tesla sped into the back of the fire truck without braking:

“I could see the driver and I saw his head leaned far forward as he appeared to be looking down at a cell phone or other device he was holding in his left hand,” according to the witness’s written statement released by NTSB. “The driver’s positioning struck me as odd and concerning because it was clear to me he was very focused on his phone and wasn’t watching the road ahead at all, even though he was quickly approaching the stopped fire engine.”

We documented the details of the crash when it happened, stating that at the time, it was unknown if the Autopilot feature was engaged.

The full NTSB report can be read here (pdf link):