Thu | Aug 17, 2017

US ends probe of fatal Tesla crash without recall

Published:Thursday | January 19, 2017 | 1:56 PM-AP
In this Monday, April 25, 2016, file photo, staff members talk with visitors as they sit inside a Tesla Model S electric car on display at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing.

US safety regulators will end an investigation into a fatal crash involving electric car maker Tesla Motors' Autopilot system without seeking a recall, a person briefed on the matter said Thursday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration scheduled a call Thursday about the investigation.

The person said Tesla won't be fined — but that the agency will criticise the company for confusing customers by calling the semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot. The person wasn't authorised to provide details because results have not been released and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The investigation began June 28, nearly two months after a driver using Autopilot in a Tesla Model S died when it failed to spot a tractor-trailer crossing the car's path on a highway in Williston, Florida, near Gainesville.

Tesla's Autopilot system uses cameras, radar and computers to detect objects and automatically brake if the car is about to hit something. It also can steer the car to keep it centred in its lane. The company said that before Autopilot can be used, drivers must acknowledge that it's an "assist feature" that requires both hands on the wheel at all times. Drivers also must be prepared to take over at any time, Tesla has said.

The lack of a recall is good news for Tesla because the agency is either blaming the crash on human error or it doesn't see the recall as necessary because Tesla software updates have already addressed the problem, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book.

"Either one reflects well on Tesla," he said.

The agency's findings are likely to influence how automakers market semi-autonomous systems. Just about every auto company has or is working on similar systems as they move toward self-driving cars.

The May 7 crash killed former Navy Seal Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. Tesla, which collects data from its cars via the Internet, said at the time that the cameras on Brown's Model S sedan failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and that the car didn't automatically brake.

NHTSA said the investigation would examine the design and performance of the automated driving system.

Consumer Reports magazine called on Tesla to drop the "Autopilot" name because it can give drivers too much trust in their car's ability to drive itself. The influential magazine urged Tesla to disconnect the automatic steering system until it's updated to make sure a driver's hands stay on the wheel at all times.

In September, Tesla updated Autopilot software to rely more on radar sensors and less on cameras. The update also disabled the automatic steering if drivers don't keep both hands on the wheel.

- AP