Tesla Model S much safer after Autopilot crash, no recall required

Tesla will not need to recall the Model S following a death related to the car’s Autopilot function, the US NHSTA said on Thursday. The United States National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will close its investigation after digging through its findings for the last six months.

The decision may come as a shock to some who have dubbed Autopilot a beta product not ready for prime time on public roads. In July, for example, Consumer Watchdog published an open letter to Elon Musk dubbing the Model S’ Autopilot function as “woefully inadequate.” The group also demanded, unsuccessfully of course, that Musk remotely disable all Autopilot functions. Indeed, Tesla did the exact opposite. It has since released new updates to Autopilot increasing some of the autonomous functions and crash rates have declined.

“The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation,” the report says (PDF).


The Model S Autopilot crash

The original accident seems to have stemmed from an error in Autopilot that wasn’t able to distinguish a white truck in another lane, which seems to have been a partial flaw in the system. Here’s what Tesla said at the time:

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.

In any case, the good news is that the government has found the Model S is now safer than ever. Good news for Tesla owners.

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