“Operational limitations” in the Tesla Model S played a major role in a May 2016 crash that killed a driver using the vehicle’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“System safeguards were lacking,” Reuters quoted NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt as saying Tuesday.
“Tesla allowed the driver to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed and the system gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention.”
The limits on the system include factors such as Tesla being unable to ensure driver attention even when the car is traveling at high speeds, ensuring Autopilot is used only on certain roads and monitoring driver engagement, NTSB said.
Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio man, was killed near Williston, Florida, when his Model S collided with a truck while it was engaged in the “Autopilot” mode.
The incident raised questions about the safety of systems that can perform driving tasks for extended stretches of time with little or no human intervention, but which cannot completely replace human drivers.
In its findings on Tuesday, the NTSB said the self-driving system’s “operational design” was a contributing factor to the 2016 crash because it allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for lengthy periods of time that were “inconsistent” with warnings from Tesla.
Tesla could have taken further steps to prevent the system’s misuse, the agency said, while faulting the driver for not paying attention and for “overreliance on vehicle automation”.
The NTSB said the Autopilot system operated as designed but did not do enough to ensure drivers paid adequate attention. On some roads, drivers could use Autopilot at up to 90 miles per hour, it said.
Tesla said in a statement that “Autopilot significantly increases safety,” citing an earlier government study that suggested the system reduced the incidence of crashes.
The company said it will evaluate suggestion from the NTSB which called for steps to ensure that semi-autonomous systems are not misused.
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