NHTSA closes investigation into Tesla Autopilot crash

It looks like things are coming up Tesla today. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has closed its investigation into a fatal crash that was blamed on Tesla's Autopilot system, present in a variety of different Tesla models. The investigation was closed without any kind of recall, much to the joy of Elon Musk, who tweeted about the "very positive" final report.

Autopilot came under scrutiny after a May 2016 crash in which a 2015 Model S collided with a tractor trailer, killing the driver. Autopilot was engaged at the time, and neither the system nor the driver made an attempt to steer away or brake before the crash occurred. It wasn't long after that the NHTSA opened an investigation into the crash, with the goal of seeing if any defects in the Autopilot system were to blame.

The NHTSA examined a number of different variables while it was carrying out its investigation. These variables include the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) system's performance and design, whether or not there we any interface issues with the Autopilot system, and any changes Tesla has made to both Autopilot and AEB in the time since the accident.

In the end, NHTSA found that defects in the Autopilot and AEB systems weren't to blame for the accident. Though the system failed to identify the collision threat, the NHTSA ultimately says that the onus is on the driver to be alert at all times, as Autopilot and AEB have their limitations. It also said that Tesla provided information about the limitations of these systems to customers, even if it wasn't as comprehensive as it could have been:

Although perhaps not as specific as it could be, Tesla has provided information about system limitations in the owner's manuals, user interface and associated warnings/alerts, as well as a driver monitoring system that is intended to aid the driver in remaining engaged in the driving task at all times. Drivers should read all instructions and warnings provided in owner's manuals for ADAS technologies and be aware of system limitations. While ADAS technologies are continually improving in performance in larger percentages of crash types, a driver should never wait for automatic braking to occur when a collision threat is perceived.

The NHTSA also noted the measures Telsa has taken to make sure that drivers don't treat Autopilot as a replacement for their own attentiveness. Autopilot has been upgraded to require that drivers keep both hands on the wheel at all times, and drivers who don't may find that Autopilot gets deactivated for the rest of their drive.

In addition to Elon Musk's own praise of the report, Tesla has delivered an official statement as well. The statement is kept short and sweet, linking back to the report to allow that to do all the talking.

At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA's report and its conclusion.

So, things are looking pretty good for Tesla after this report. Still, the Autopilot moniker might come under further scrutiny in the future given the limitations of the system and what the name implies. Indeed, Consumer Reports has urged Tesla in the past to drop the Autopilot name, and it may not be the last one to do so.

Just as well, the NHTSA warns that the closing of this particular investigation "does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists," but only that one was not an issue in this instance. The agency closes its report by saying that it will continue to monitor the situation and will take further action if warranted. To read the full report, click the source link below.