Federal regulators said Monday that the driver of a Tesla Model S killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time. He was repeatedly warned by the vehicle that his hands were necessary, the regulators said.
That’s one of the findings contained in documents that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is releasing as part of its ongoing probe into the death of Joshua Brown. The motorist from Ohio was killed last year in a Florida highway crash when the Tesla he was driving struck a tractor-trailer as the semi was crossing an intersection of a divided highway that did not have a traffic signal.
The crash raised eyebrows about the safety of new automated driving features when used during long stretches of driving. It was also the nation’s first crash fatality involving a vehicle in self-driving mode.
Tesla’s autopilot mode allows a vehicle to maintain the speed of traffic, and an auto-steer function is designed to help keep the Tesla inside its lane. The board said the Tesla alerted the driver seven times with a visual of “Hands Required Not Detected.”
The authorities said the motorist, a former Navy Seal, had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds during the 37 minutes of the trip when they should have been placed on the steering wheel. That’s according to “system performance data” from Tesla, the government said.