After retrieving the computer logs inside the Model X car involved in an accident last week, Tesla has concluded that Autopilot was engaged with the vehicle's autonomous cruise control system a few moments prior to the crash. Tesla explained in a blog post that the driver's hands were not on the steering wheel for six seconds before the vehicle hit a highway barrier in California despite receiving a number of warnings earlier in the trip.
Tesla's statement comes a week after the fatal crash on March 23, which led to the death of the driver, Wei Huang. It was not immediately clear at the time of the incident whether the vehicle’s Autopilot system was engaged with the adaptive cruise controller, which is responsible for slowing down or speeding up the vehicle autonomously to keep pace with another vehicle in front.
The company now explains:
The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.
Tesla also claims the accident has been aggravated by the presence of an already damaged crash attenuator that had been there and left unfixed before the incident occurred. The fixture is a safety barrier built into highways to help minimize the impact of a collision into a concrete lane divider.
However, the company tries to defend the Autopilot program of the Model X, saying:
Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the U.S. government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40%. Internal data confirms that recent updates to Autopilot have improved system reliability.
In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
Tesla, on the other hand, acknowledges the fact that the Autopilot program is not capable of preventing all accidents, though it is intended to help reduce their likelihood. It's not the first time, though, that a Tesla vehicle was involved in a road mishap. Last year, former Navy SEAL Joshua Brown died in an accident after driving in a semi-autonomous Autopilot mode onboard a Model S car. In 2016, a Tesla Model S driver was also killed in an accident while the car was in Autopilot mode.
The electric vehicle manufacturer's shares dropped 8 percent in trading two days ago amid reports that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the accident, according to a report from Fortune.