NTSB: Tesla driver in fatal crash was speeding

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – The driver of a 2015 Tesla Model S who was killed in a crash while it was operating with its Autopilot system activated was speeding, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

Joshua Brown stands by his new Tesla electric car near his home in Canton, Ohio in 2015.

The NTSB said Joshua Brown, 40, of Ohio, was driving at 74 miles per hour with the car’s semi-autonomous driving system engaged at the time of the crash that took his life. The agency said the roadway that Brown was driving on has a 65 miles per hour speed limit.

“Tesla system performance data downloaded from the car indicated that vehicle speed just prior to impact was 74 mph,” the NTSB said in a preliminary report on its investigation of the crash.

The Tesla Model S that was being driven by Joshau Brown, who was killed, when the sedan crashed while in self-driving mode on May 7, 2016.

“System performance data also revealed that the driver was operating the car using the advanced driver assistance features Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer lane keeping assistance,” the report continued.

Tesla has come under fire for making its Autopilot feature available to drivers when it still is in a testing phase. The company refers to the system as a “beta” product.

Federal regulators say preliminary reports show the fatal Model S crash occurred when a semitrailer turned left in front of the car at a highway intersection on May 7. Florida police said the roof of the car struck the underside of the trailer and the car passed beneath. Brown, a former Navy SEAL, was declared 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 on June 30.

The NTSB said Tuesday that the Model S that was being driven by Brown “struck and passed beneath a 2014 Freightliner Cascadia truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot semitrailer.

“As a result of the initial impact, the battery disengaged from the electric motors powering the car,” the accident investigation agency said. “After exiting from underneath the semitrailer, the car coasted at a shallow angle off the right side of the roadway, traveled approximately 297 feet, and then collided with a utility pole.”

Brown’s death is believed to be the first fatality in a car engaged in a semi-autonomous driving feature. The fatal accident has roiled the debate over self-driving cars, with consumer groups calling for federal regulators to slow down a push from automakers and tech companies like Google to win wide latitude for autonomous vehicle testing.

Records from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles show that Brown had been ticketed for speeding in Ohio and Virginia eight times between 2010 and 2015. Brown’s most recent traffic violation before his death was a 2015 conviction in a Cincinnati neighborhood were he charged with driving at 64 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone.

The NTSB said Tuesday that its investigators used “three-dimensional laser scanning technology” to document “the crash location, the damaged semitrailer and the damaged car.”

The agency said it was helped by Tesla’s on-board computer systems, which it said are “capable of recording and transmitting vehicle performance data.”

The NTSB promised to continue its probe of the fatal Tesla crash, saying its investigators “will continue to collect and analyze these data, and use it along with other information collected during the investigation in evaluating the crash events.”


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing