NHTSA Determines Autonomous Systems Aren't Failsafe: Picture of busy highway in the evening.

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) released its report about a May 7, 2016, fatal accident.  The collision occurred between a Tesla Model S and a tractor-trailer in Williston FL. on a four-lane highway.  The tractor-trailer was crossing the highway, and the Tesla hit the right side of the trailer. The crash occurred because the driver of the Tesla relied too much on the autonomous braking system, and wasn’t paying attention to the road.  The driver of the Tesla died as a result of the crash.

Autonomous System Failed

The report highlighted the fact that autonomous systems aren’t failsafe, and drivers need to pay attention to their driving when using the systems.  Specifically, the report found,  “The systems have limitations and may not always detect threats or provide warnings or automatic braking early enough to avoid collisions.” The report also noted the braking system wasn’t defective and the Tesla was speeding at the time of the accident.

NHSB Had Similar Findings

These were similar to the findings of the National Highway Safety Board (NHSB), which released its report about the accident in July of 2016.  Their report found the crash could have been avoided if brakes were applied, but the driver relied on the Autopilot system and it failed to stop the car.

Tesla’s Findings

Tesla released its own findings and said the auto sensors couldn’t detect the white trailer against the bright sky so the car wasn’t slowed or stopped.  Tesla has since changed the system so drivers can’t use it improperly.  The autopilot system was never designed to operate the car without the driver’s input.  It’s supposed to be used as a safety enhancement to avoid collisions.  Tesla’s report said drivers should remain aware of the driving conditions and be prepared to take action if necessary to prevent collisions.