NHTSA Drops Tesla Autopilot Investigation, Highlights Technology Strengths

Elbert EdwardsJan 20, 2017

After a six-month-long investigation conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following last year's crash that killed a driver whose Model S collided with a truck while using the company's driving-assist feature, NHTSA regulators have issued a report stating that no evidence of defects in Tesla's electric auto were found.

"The closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists", the report says. "Accordingly, this investigation is closed", the report [PDF] concludes. "The agency will monitor the issue and reserves the right to take future action if warranted by the circumstances".

The Associated Press reports the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Tesla crash, but it could be months before a final report is issued.

Months after the Florida crash, Tesla announced that its new cars now all include hardware needed to be completely self-driving, and that improved Autopilot software is being developed to exploit those new tools.

NHTSA said the investigation would examine the design and performance of the automated driving system.

Federal regulators have closed the investigation into the crash that killed a Tesla driver last May, saying Thursday that officials found no defects in the semiautonomous "Autopilot" system being used at the time. NHTSA's report on the analysis also highlighted some strengths of the technology.

In its report, the Traffic Safety Administration looked into the role that the Tesla's Autopilot feature played in the crash.

On Tesla's website, the Tesla Team assured customers that their safety is their No. 1 priority, and the company said that it "appreciate (s) the thoroughness of NHTSA's report and it's conclusion".

The crash occurred on a divided highway, where the 2015 Model S collided with a tractor-trailer that was making a left turn across the Tesla driver's lane. Initial indications suggested the vehicle's camera and radar systems - which are supposed to work together to identify and prevent potential collisions - confused the truck with the bright Florida sky. Tesla has since added another layer of safety to the system by instituting a "strike out" strategy.

But analysis shows that Autopilot is more of a help than a hindrance.

Every time Autopilot is activated, the system advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and "be prepared to take over at any time". That incident saw a Tesla under the control of semi-autonomous Autopilot software run into the side of a truck trailer, which subsequently saw critics freak out about the unsafe deployment of beta software to the nation's roads.

Tesla customers can now order either "Enhanced Autopilot" or "Full Self-Driving Capability", when they buy a new vehicle.

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