Members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet next month to determine the probable cause of a fatal car crash in 2016 that involved the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature in a Tesla Model S. Following an investigation that has lasted more than a year, NTSB officials said Tuesday that the five-member board will meet on Sept. 12 and is scheduled to decide on the probable cause of the high-profile collision. The crash occurred on May 7, 2016, in Williston, Florida, and killed the driver of a Tesla Model S, Joshua Brown. The board released some findings from its investigation in June, and the results of the upcoming decision and board discussion will likely push both Tesla and the auto industry at large to give further consideration to the ways that advanced driver-assist features are marketed and introduced to consumers.
Brown, 40, was the first motorist known to have been killed in the United States in a crash involving a semi-autonomous feature. His death has spawned debate on the brand name Autopilot for a system that still requires human drivers to maintain ultimate responsibility for vehicle operations. It has also sparked discussion about how customers should be educated on the capabilities and limitations of semi-autonomous features. This has a bearing on how automakers will market the even more complex systems they’re planning to roll out in the next few years.
In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closed its own investigation into the collision without taking any enforcement action or prompting a recall. The NTSB is a separate government entity that holds no enforcement authority but issues recommendations on how to enhance transportation safety.
In June, the agency found that Brown drove for extended periods without touching the steering wheel, despite automated warnings. His Model S sedan struck the side of a tractor trailer hauling blueberries that had crossed his path along a Florida highway, prompting questions about his lack of reaction and about why the automated system didn’t hit the brakes or alert him to the impending collision.
A study of the incident released by the NTSB earlier this month found the Model S had traveled at a constant speed of 74 miles per hour prior to the crash and that Brown had at least 3.4 seconds to react when the front of the truck crossed into the eastbound travel lanes. The truck driver had even longer to prevent the crash. Investigators said the Model S was visible to the truck driver for approximately 10.4 seconds before the crash.