New details on deadly Tesla crash

Federal investigators are shedding more light on a fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle. Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released 500 pages of additional information in the crash that killed Apple engineer Walter Huang.

“It’s greater detail. It’s all leading up to later this month, we’re waiting for the NTSB to rule on what the probable cause was for that mountain view crash. A lot of questions have been raised since 2018 when it occurred. And a lot of concerns over how autopilot operates,” said Tim Higgins, a Wall Street Journal technology & automotive correspondent.

While Huang’s Model-S, operating on so-called “autopilot,” drove south on U.S. 101 in Mountain View, the sensors were confused by on-going construction at the junction with California Highway 85. The vehicle slammed into a previously damaged attenuator which caused the car to crash and catch fire, killing Huang. NTSB documents show he had complained the car’s autopilot feature had previously malfunctioned in the same way on the same stretch of road.

“Clearly if the vehicle is supposed to be looking at the lanes on the right and the left and it cannot see it, then there’s a problem. They have to go with other sensors to be able to make the vehicle autopilot,” said Dr. Fred Barez, a San Jose State University mechanical engineer.

Tesla has consistently explained it’s diver-assist feature is not autonomous driving. The person behind the wheel must always pay attention, and be ready to take control.

Federal investigators are also looking into a Florida crash that killed Jeremy Banner. His Tesla 3 sensors, also operating an “autopilot,” failed to detect a white truck that turned in front of the vehicle. The car slammed into the truck killing Banner.

“Since then, Tesla has installed a radar to detect an object, regardless of the colour it may have,” said Dr. Barez.

While the new documents do not provide findings, safety recommendations, or probably cause, experts said it could lay the groundwork for greater federal oversight of self-driving vehicles.

“A lot of eyes are going to be on the (upcoming) hearing to see what the government says the cause of the crashes was,” said Higgins.

The NTSB will release its findings for the cause of the Mountain View crash February 25, and make safety recommendations.