The NTSB said this week that its going to convene a meeting on February 25 to examine the probable cause of a fatal Tesla accident that took place in California in 2018.
Autopilot was engaged in 38 year old Apple engineer Walter Huang's Model X prior to the accident, as we have reported. The NTSB and NHTSA are now investigating a "number of crashes" where Autopilot was involved, according to Automotive News.
Last week, for instance, the NHTSA said it was investigating a December 29th crash of a Model 3 that a passenger dead after the Model 3 collided with an inanimate fire truck in Indiana. It's also investigating another crash on the same date where a Model S ran a red light and struck a Honda, killing its two occupants.
The December crashes mark the 13th and 14th involving Tesla that "NHTSA's special crash investigation program has taken up in which it suspects Autopilot or another advanced driver assistance system was in use" and it's the third crash the NHTSA has said it was investigating in recent weeks.
As they also note, the powers of the NTSB are relatively limited compared to the NHTSA. "NTSB makes safety recommendations but cannot compel action, while NHTSA can order a recall if it deems a vehicle poses an unreasonable safety risk," the note states.
In the case of Huang, he was driving on Highway 101 near Mountain View, California, when his Model X hit a carpool lane barrier, leading two more cars to crashing into it, and causing the lithium ion batteries powering the vehicle to ignite and explode, at which point the vehicle burst into flames.
"We saw a big cloud of smoke and then all of a sudden, there was a fire ball in the air," witness Aiden Sanchez said at the time.
Huang was then taken to Stanford hospital and tragically, the California Highway Patrol announced the day of the accident that he had died from his injuries. According to a timeline of occurrences from the day of the crash, the cause of death appeared to be that the driver was "trapped" inside the burning car.
The family of Walter Huang sued Tesla last year, claiming his “state-of-the-art” Tesla lacked safety features, such as an automatic emergency braking system, which the family pointed out was available on less expensive vehicles from other carmakers.
The family also says that Tesla knew, or should have known “that the Tesla Model X was likely to cause injury to its occupants by leaving travel lanes and striking fixed objects when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.”