Tesla Driver Was Using Autopilot in Fatal March Crash: NTSB

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The NHTSA has released its preliminary report  regarding a fatal Tesla crash in Delray Beach, Florida that took place on March 1. The report finds that Tesla’s Autopilot “was active at the time of the crash”.


The report describes the events leading up to the incident:

As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes.

According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path. The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south. The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. 

The report then goes on to note that Autopilot had been engaged 10 seconds before the collision and that the vehicle, traveling about 68 mph, didn’t execute evasive maneuvers: 

The driver engaged the Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers.

The report also states that the NTSB is still investigating, stating:

The investigation will also examine the driver of the combination vehicle, the motor carrier, highway factors, and survival factors. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation as the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes. The NTSB is working in partnership with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office during the investigation.

On March 3, we reported that the NHTSA was investigating the company. 

A spokesperson for the NHTSA said that the agency was in the midst of an “ongoing investigation” involving two crashes in Florida and that the agency would “take additional actions if appropriate”.

The NTSB has, in the past, also published reports on similar incidents, like this May 7, 2016 incident where a Tesla also wound up underneath a tractor trailer. 

In that instance, the NTSB concluded the cause was “…the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way to the car, combined with the car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation.” 


The NHTSA has the authority to demand a recall if it believes a defect poses a safety risk. The NTSB, also investigating the second crash, makes safety recommendations. The NHTSA and NTSB are investigating the role of Tesla’s Autopilot and battery fires in Teslas after crashes, including cases of batteries reigniting, as was the case in one of the recent accidents. 

You can read the preliminary report here

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