NTSB report states driver engaged Autopilot seconds before deadly crash.
A Tesla Model 3 had Autopilot engaged seconds before it crashed into a semi truck in March, killing the driver, the National Transportation Safety Board reported on Thursday.
Jeremy Banner was driving his Model 3 on a four-lane highway in Palm Beach County, Florida. As the Tesla approached a driveway, a semi truck pulled out in front of the car, making a left-hand turn from the driveway to the opposite travel lanes.
The Tesla 3 was traveling at approximately 68mph then slid under the truck’s trailer. The trailer severed off the top of the car, killing Banner. The vehicle continued down the road for another 1,600 feet before coming to a rest in the median.
“Preliminary data show that the Tesla’s Autopilot system… was active at the time of the crash,” the NTSB reports. “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.”
The NTSB says that preliminary data suggests that neither the driver nor the Autopilot system made evasive maneuvers.
“We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” a Tesla spokeswoman wrote by email. “Tesla drivers have logged more than one billion miles with Autopilot engaged, and our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance.”
Tesla vehicles are shipped with a second-generation Autopilot system that Tesla developed in-house. By the time of Banner’s death, Tesla’s engineers had had more than two years to mitigate the system and avoid a repeat of the situation that led to Brown’s death.
Adaptive cruise control systems like Autopilot traditionally rely mostly on radar to avoid running into other vehicles on the road. Because radar can detect Doppler shifts, it is good at detecting moving objects. But it is not good at recognizing stationary objects (or objects, like a truck crossing the road, that are not moving in the car’s direction of travel). Radar systems lack the angular resolution to distinguish a truck crossing the road from a large street sign suspended over the road, so they tend to simply ignore stationary objects. That has led to Tesla cars (and cars from other manufacturers) plowing into parked cars and concrete barriers.
Sadly, lidar with sufficient range and reliability for self-driving cars still costs tens of thousands of dollars, making it hard for mainstream use in customer-owned cars. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has opinions of a different criticism of lidar, describing it as a crutch that will actually hamper companies’ progress toward full self-driving.