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Tesla Model X Veered Toward Highway Divider in Fatal Autopilot Crash

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【Summary】The National Transportation Safety Board issued Thursday its preliminary report for the investigation of the fatal, March 23, 2018, crash of a Tesla on U.S. Highway 101 in Mountain View, California.

FutureCar Staff    Jun 07, 2018 11:29 AM PT
Tesla Model X Veered Toward Highway Divider in Fatal Autopilot Crash
author: FutureCar Staff    

The National Transportation Safety Board issued Thursday its preliminary report for the investigation of the fatal, March 23, 2018, crash of a Tesla on U.S. Highway 101 in Mountain View, California. The preliminary report concludes the Model X suddenly veered towards a highway divider while in Autopilot mode.

According to performance data downloaded from the crash vehicle, a 2017 Tesla Model X P100D SUV, the driver was using traffic-aware cruise control and Tesla's autosteer lane-keeping assistance, which are advanced driver assistance features that the company refers to as Autopilot.

The vehicle was approaching the state Highway 85 interchange, traveling south on U.S. Highway 101, in the second lane from the left — a high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lane.

As the vehicle approached the paved gore area dividing the main travel lane of U.S. Highway 101 from the state Highway 85 exit ramp, it moved to the left and entered the gore area at approximately 71 mph, striking a previously damaged, SCI smart cushion crash attenuator system.

The posted speed limit for the 101 Freeway in the area is 65 mph. The NTSB reports that the vehicle's traffic-aware cruise control was set to 75 mph at the time of the crash.

The Tesla was subsequently involved in collisions with a 2010 Mazda 3 and a 2017 Audi A4. The Model X's 400-volt, lithium-ion, high-voltage battery was damaged during the crash resulting in a fire.

The driver of the Model X was found belted in his seat and bystanders removed him from the vehicle before it was engulfed in flames. The Tesla driver suffered fatal injuries while the driver of the Mazda suffered minor injuries and the driver of the Audi was not injured.

2016-tesla-model-x-test-review-car-and-driver-photo-667986-s-original.jpg

The Tesla Model X

A preliminary review of the Tesla's recorded performance data showed:

The Autopilot system was engaged on four separate occasions during the 32-minute trip, including continuous operation for the last 18 minutes and 55 seconds prior to the crash.

In the 18 minutes and 55 seconds prior to impact, the Tesla provided two visual alerts and one auditory alert for the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel. The alerts were made more than 15 minutes before the crash.

The driver's hands were detected on the steering wheel for a total of 34 seconds, on three separate occasions, in the 60 seconds before impact.

The vehicle did not detect the driver's hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the crash.

The Tesla was following a lead vehicle and traveling about 65 mph, eight seconds before the crash.

While following a lead vehicle the Tesla began a left steering movement, seven seconds before the crash.

The Tesla was no longer following a lead vehicle four seconds before the crash.

The NTSB reported that the Tesla's speed increased — beginning three seconds before impact and continuing until the crash — from 62 to 70.8 mph. There was no braking or evasive steering detected prior to impact.

Responding firefighters applied about 200 gallons of water and foam to extinguish the post-crash fire. The Model X battery pack reignited five days after the crash while it was stored in a impound lot in San Mateo, California and was extinguished by the city's fire department.

Preliminary reports do not contain analysis and do not discuss probable cause and as such, no conclusions about the cause of the crash should be drawn from the preliminary report. The NTSB's investigation of the crash is still ongoing. Major investigations and investigations of crashes involving fatalities are generally completed in 12 to 24 months. The report is available online at https://goo.gl/cDv2kf.

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