NTSB Reveals Tesla's Autopilot Was Engaged During Fatal 2019 Crash

A Tesla driver who was killed in Delray Beach, Florida in 2019 while driving their Model 3, had engaged the car's Autopilot feature "seconds" before the crash, an NTSB report released on Tuesday revealed.

The driver had set the car to go 69 miles per hour 12.3 seconds before the crash took place on a highway that had a speed limit of 55 mph, according to Bloomberg. The NTSB also revealed that the driver's hands were not on the wheel for the final 7.7 seconds before the crash. 

The NTSB had also arrived at similar findings regarding a 2016 Florida crash where another Tesla driver didn't react to a truck in the roadway. In that instance, the NTSB found that Tesla's Autopilot design contributed to the cause of the accident. 

A previous NTSB preliminary report that we covered in Spring of 2019 had described the events leading up to the incident:

As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes.

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 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. 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 preliminary report had estimated Autopilot was engaged about 10 seconds before the collision. It also said that the vehicle "didn't execute evasive maneuvers": 

The driver engaged the Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. 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.

In March of last year, we also reported that the NHTSA was investigating the company. A spokesperson for the NHTSA said that the agency was in the midst of an "ongoing investigation" involving two crashes in Florida and that the agency would "take additional actions if appropriate".

As noted, the NTSB drew similar conclusions regarding this May 7, 2016 incident where a Tesla wound up underneath a tractor trailer. 

Recall, we also reported weeks ago that Senator Ed Markey had called Autopilot a "flawed system" and had urged Tesla take "additional steps to ensure drivers pay attention to the road while using the system." Markey has been critical of Tesla's driver-assist feature for months. 

“Autopilot is a flawed system, but I believe its dangers can be overcome,” Markey said. He also said he believes that Autopilot "promotes confusion about the limits of the system and the name undermines user manuals and instructions stressing drivers must remain in control of the car."

Tesla has, of course, said that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and stay attentive when using Autopilot. But, as we know, not everybody follows those recommendations. 

Recall, this is the same company whose CEO kept his hands off the wheel during a nationally televised demonstration of Autopilot and the very same CEO who stood on a stage years ago and promised that Tesla drivers would be able to "sleep" or "watch a movie" while in the driver's seat.