NTSB releases details in two crashes involving Tesla Autopilot

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

An Apple engineer who died when his Tesla Model X crashed into a concrete barrier had earlier complained regarding the SUV malfunctioning on that same stretch of Silicon Valley freeway.

His complaints were detailed last week in documents released by federal investigators in two Tesla crashes associating Autopilot, one in California and the other in Florida.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is probing the March 2018 crash that killed Walter Huang near Mountain View, California. It’s also investigating an accident in Delray Beach, Florida, that took place about a year later and killed driver Jeremy Banner.

The documents state Huang informed his wife that Autopilot had earlier veered his SUV toward the same barrier on U.S. 101 near Mountain View where he later collided. Huang died at a hospital because of the injuries.

“Walter stated the car would veer toward the barrier in the mornings when he went to work,” the Huang family’s attorney said in a response to NTSB questions.

Records from an iPhone recovered from the crash site revealed that Huang may have been using it prior to the accident. Records gathered from AT&T revealed that data had been used while the vehicle was in motion, but the source of the transmissions couldn’t be figured out, the NTSB wrote. One transmission was less than a minute prior to the crash.

Huang had referred Autopilot’s previous malfunctioning to his brother, the Huang family attorney wrote, along with a discussion with a friend who owns a Model X. Huang, a software engineer, talked with the friend about how a patch to the Autopilot software affected its performance and made the Model X veer, the attorney said.

The Huang family is taking legal action against Tesla and California’s Department of Transportation for allegedly failing to maintain the highway.

Autopilot is a partially automated system created for keeping a vehicle in its lane and maintaining a safe distance from vehicles in front of it. It also can change lanes with driver’s permission. Tesla states Autopilot is intended to be used for driver assistance and that drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.

The full NTSB board is set to hold a hearing on the Mountain View accident on February 25. At that time, it will figure out a cause and make safety recommendations.

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