An inattentive driver and technical shortcomings in Tesla’s autopilot system contributed to a 2018 crash in which a Tesla rear-ended a fire truck on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Culver City, according to a federal report out Wednesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the 47-year-old driver of the Tesla was relying too heavily on the car’s autopilot system, causing the vehicle to crash into the rear of the fire truck, which was parked and partially blocking the carpool lane on the southbound 405 Freeway north of Washington Boulevard on Jan. 22, 2018.
According to the report, the NTSB “determines that the probable cause of the Culver City, California, rear-end crash was the Tesla driver’s lack of response to the stationary fire truck in his travel lane, due to inattention and over-reliance on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system; the Tesla’s Autopilot design, which permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task; and the driver’s use of the system in ways inconsistent with guidance and warnings from the manufacturer.”
The report noted that the driver told authorities he had engaged the car’s autopilot system while driving to work that day. He said he was eating a bagel and had a cup of coffee, but he could not recall if either was in his hand when the actual crash occurred. According to the report, he told a California Highway Patrol officer following the crash that he had been distracted by the radio.
According to the report, the Tesla was heading south on the 405 in the HOV lane, with an SUV or a pickup truck directly in front of it. When the vehicles approached the parked fire truck, the driver of the lead vehicle changed lanes to the right to avoid the truck. The Tesla, however, accelerated forward and slammed into the rear corner of the fire truck.
The report stated that the Tesla’s collision-avoidance system did not activate, noting that “stationary objects” present a “challenging scenario” for autopilot systems. The report said the system has additional difficulties when a lead vehicle rapidly changes lanes to reveal a stationary vehicle.
“When the last lead vehicle changed lanes … revealing the fire truck on the path of the Tesla, the system was unable to immediately detect the hazard and accelerated the Tesla toward the stationary truck,” according to the report. “By the time the system detected the stationary vehicle and gave the driver a collision warning … the collision was imminent and the warning was too late, particularly for an inattentive driver.”
The report, however, appears to lay primary blame for the crash on the driver for failing to recognize the hazard on the roadway.
“… The driver’s lack of braking and steering in response to the stopped fire truck, his statement that he never saw the fire truck and his potential in-vehicle distractions — bagel, cup of coffee, radio — all suggest that the driver was not attending to the driving task before the crash,” according to the report.
No injuries were reported in the crash.
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