Feds set deadline for answers on Tesla crash

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is giving Tesla until Aug. 26 to fully answer questions about the fatal crash of one of its 2015 Model S cars that was operating with its automated driving system activated.

The agency said it is examining the performance of the automatic emergency braking system used by Tesla that is designed to prevent collisions such as the one that killed Joshua Brown of Ohio in a crash in Florida on May 7.

Federal regulators say preliminary reports show the Tesla crash happened when a semi-trailer rig turned left in front of the car that was in Autopilot mode at a highway intersection. Florida police said the roof of the car struck the underside of the trailer and the car passed beneath. The driver was dead at the scene.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in a blog posting June 30.

NHTSA said in its letter to Tesla, dated July 8, that it is looking for information on all systems designed to provide automatic emergency braking that’s intended to prevent front-end crashes.

In a statement provided to The Detroit News, the agency said, “NHTSA has not made any determination about the presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles.”

The agency is requiring Tesla to respond to 10 questions about the deadly crash. NHTSA has set a deadline of July 29 for Tesla to respond to its highest priority questions about the fatal Florida crash. The company will be given until Aug. 26 for Tesla to comply with the remainder of the queries.

Tesla faces penalties up to $21,000 per day, with a maximum of $105 million, if it fails to meet NHTSA’s deadlines for responding to the questions about the autopilot crash.

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during an interview the company has no plans to disable the company’s Autopilot function in the wake of the May crash.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Detroit News about the highway safety agency’s information request.

NHTSA’s questions come as the Security and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Tesla misled investors by waiting until June to release information about the fatal crash, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The SEC has declined to comment on the reported Tesla investigation.

Tesla has disputed allegations that its SEC filings have been misleading since the autopilot crash.

“When Tesla told NHTSA about the accident on May 16th, we had barely started our investigation,” the company said in July 6 blog post. “Tesla informed NHTSA because it wanted to let NHTSA know about a death that had taken place in one of its vehicles. It was not until May 18th that a Tesla investigator was able to go to Florida to inspect the car and the crash site and pull the complete vehicle logs from the car, and it was not until the last week of May that Tesla was able to finish its review of those logs and complete its investigation.”

The fatal crash is one of at least three high-profile accidents involving Autopilot, including a July 1 accident involving Oakland County resident and art gallery owner Albert Scaglione in his 2016 Tesla Model X.

Scaglione, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly told police that the car was in driver-assist mode when it crashed around 5 p.m. Friday on the Pennsylvania Turnpike — but the company insists there is no evidence the Autopilot contributed to the crash.

According to a report from the Pennsylvania State Police, Scaglione was cited for careless driving and failing to safely stay in his traffic lane.

The other reported crash involving Autopilot occurred Saturday. The driver of a Tesla Model X SUV told local authorities the feature was active when the vehicle crashed into railing wires along the side of Montana State Highway 2 near Whitehall.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

Staff writer Michael Wayland contributed