According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the driver killed in a May 7 crash while using Tesla’s Autopilot feature was speeding. Although no probable cause was stated by the board, the investigation found the Model S was traveling almost 10 mph over the posted speed limit before striking a semi-truck.
In a June 30 report from Tesla, the automaker explained what caused the accident, revealing the Autopilot feature did not recognize the tractor trailer in the bright sunlight.
The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.
It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled.
Before Autopilot can be activated, drivers are alerted they need to be in control of the vehicle at all times. The NTSB’s report did not reveal whether or not the driver’s hands were on the wheel at the time of the accident.
Since the crash, Consumer Watchdog criticized the Autopilot feature, calling it “woefully inadequate.” For his part, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has maintained that Autopilot is an important part of the automaker’s future, with over 100 million miles of accident-free driving already under the technology’s belt.
Although Musk feels vehicles equipped with Autopilot are statistically safer, he did acknowledge the feature is still not perfect and requires drivers to remain alert. Things could improve drastically, however, when Autopilot 2.0, which will reportedly have the ability to recognize stop signs and traffic lights, is released later this year.