Tesla Owner Was in Driver’s Seat in Texas Crash, NTSB Says
The California driver whose Tesla vehicles were electrically-controlled to avoid a fiery collision with a trailer on a Texas highway died because of a failure to adhere to an experimental safety feature, officials said.
Benjamin Cook, 43, of San Diego was the only person killed on 13 November when his Tesla Model S collided with a semi-trailer and burst into flames, according to an incident report released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Responding to the report, Tesla said in a statement that it was “thoroughly investigating this incident” but had not yet found any patterns of software malfunctions.
“As an example, Tesla video footage clearly shows that the fire began after impact with the post-crash trailer,” it said. “For some reason, the truck driver attempted to avoid striking the Tesla by driving over the sand that was lying on the highway and slightly overcorrecting to the right. Unfortunately, his semi-trailer crossed over the centerline and collided with the Tesla.”
Cook, according to authorities, had the car manually “in-canceling” the autopilot feature, a feature that allows drivers to turn on and off the vehicle’s cruise control using the company’s smartphone app.
The autopilot feature had earlier been set to “active” and closed for the duration of the two-lane highway without requiring the driver to activate it manually, the NTSB report said.
Tesla drivers are cautioned to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, use the car in unfamiliar circumstances and follow other safeguards before turning on the autopilot. It recommends that drivers keep the top of their heads visible and in their seats at all times during the car’s cruise control period.
The NTSB said that in Cook’s case the autopilot was set to “off” for the duration of the two-lane highway.
Autopilot has been the subject of several defect investigations since its release in late 2015, but none resulted in any recalls.
The driver was killed when his Tesla Model S collided with a tractor trailer on 28 November 2018 on Interstate 35 near Fort Worth, Texas.
A previous investigation into two fatal crashes involving Teslas recommended that Tesla adopt a change to the autopilot system to better restrict its ability to switch off or minimize a vehicle’s ability to take off for long periods of time.
Tesla later adopted the recommendation and two months ago formally released a new autopilot driver guide on its website.
Tesla has repeatedly insisted that “neither autopilot nor the computer driving the car determines whether a vehicle is ‘driving itself’.”