The driver of a Tesla Inc Model X auto using Autopilot did not have his hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before a fatal crash in California in March, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. The NTSB had objected to Telsa making statements concerning the cause of the crash before the investigation is complete, while Telsa accused the agency of releasing incomplete information and "trying to prevent us from telling all the facts". Early media reports have said that the software may have sped up before that crash too.
The report also said the vehicle had sped up from 62 miles (99 km) per hour to almost 71 miles (114 km) per hour in the three seconds before the March 23 crash - and above the 65 mph (105 km per hour) speed limit.
Federal investigators found that the Model X P100D's driver, Apple engineer Walter Huang, had set Autopilot to 75 miles per hour for almost 19 minutes prior to the impact while traveling on U.S. Highway 101 approaching State Highway 85. According to the NTSB, not only did the Tesla Autopilot steer into the concrete divider, it actually sped up.
Telsa executives - who have been locked in a clash with the NTSB that left them outside the federal investigation - did not immediately comment on the findings, instead pointing to a blog post from March that notes the safety benefits of the company's technology.
What caused the accident remains the heart of the investigation and the NTSB says the Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip including continuously during the final 19 minutes prior to the collision.
In the report released Thursday, the NTSB said the SUV was operating with traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer lane-keeping assistance engaged at the time of the crash.
The data also shows that Huang's hand were only on the steering wheel for 34 seconds total in the 60 seconds leading up to the crash.More news: China warns United States that tariffs will kill any chance of trade benefits
In the days after the crash, Huang's wife Savonne said her husband had complained about the system not working properly near the area where the crash occurred.
Two other vehicles subsequently struck the Tesla, resulting in an additional injury. A Tesla website says its vehicles have "full self-driving hardware".
In January, a Tesla Model S that may have been on autopilot hit a parked firetruck on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles. The woman sustained minor injuries.
NHTSA also is looking into a May 11 crash involving a Tesla Model S near Salt Lake City.
Autopilot can steer and brake itself under certain circumstances, but requires drivers to periodically touch the steering wheel to indicate that they are paying attention.
A Tesla spokeswoman pointed to passages in the company's owners' manual warning that automatic emergency braking is created to reduce severity of a crash and isn't created to avoid a collision.