The National Transportation Safety Board urged government regulators and manufacturers to implement safeguards for automated vehicle technology, delivering strong words to both Tesla and NHTSA to act.
The board held a public hearing Tuesday to determine the probable cause of the March 23, 2018, fatal crash of a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, Calif.
The crash on U.S. 101 killed its driver, Walter Huang, who was using Tesla Inc.'s advanced driver-assistance system known as Autopilot. According to performance data downloaded from the crash vehicle, Huang was using traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer lane-keeping assist, both ADAS features that are part of Tesla's system.
Huang, a 38-year-old Apple Inc. software engineer, had Autopilot engaged continuously in the last 18 minutes and 55 seconds before his car struck a highway barrier at approximately 71 mph. The vehicle provided two visual and one auditory alerts for the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel, according to the preliminary report. The driver's hands were not detected on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the crash, the NTSB said.
Records reviewed by the board also found Huang was playing a video game on his iPhone before the crash, though it could not determine whether he was actively engaged with the game or just holding the device.
But a vehicle with partial automation is not a fully automated vehicle, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in the hearing.
"This means that when driving in the supposed self-driving mode, you can't sleep. You can't read a book. You can't watch a movie or TV show. You can't text," he added. "And you can't play video games."
Sumwalt said it was the "lack of system safeguards" that struck him the most in the investigative findings.
"The industry in some cases is ignoring the NTSB's recommendations intending to help prevent such tragedies," Sumwalt said. "Equally disturbing is that government regulators have provided scant oversight, ignoring — in some cases — this board's recommendations for system safeguards."
In the meeting, NTSB investigators identified seven key safety issues involving driver distraction, limitations of collision-avoidance systems and insufficient federal oversight of partial automation systems, among other areas. NTSB investigators also called on phone manufacturers such as Apple to develop "distracted-driving lockout mechanisms" that would be installed as a default setting on all phones.
In summary, the board also made nine safety recommendations, including an expansion of NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program testing of forward collision avoidance system performance, further evaluation of Autopilot-equipped vehicles, “collaborative development” of standards for driver monitoring systems to minimize driver disengagement, and several proposals covering cellphone use while driving and enforcement strategies for reducing distracted driving.
Automotive News has reached out to NHTSA for comment.