Tesla crash report shows driver kept his hands off the wheel nearly all the time

The man killed in a Tesla Model S crash in May 2016 wasn’t heeding Tesla’s security advice despite being warned by the car numerous times, an in-depth investigation has shown. 


Former Navy SEAL and Tesla enthusiast Joshua Brown was driving on the highway near Williston, Florida, when his Model S hit the side of a tractor trailer without braking. 

A 538-page report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), published online late last week, has concluded that Brown didn’t have his hands on the wheel while the car was in autopilot mode, a requirement from Tesla. 

According to the report, Brown had hands off the wheel “for the vast majority of the trip,” despite receiving a visual warning to do so seven times during the course of the trip, which lasted 37 minutes. He drove at 74 miles per hour, which was above the 65 miles-per-hour speed limit. The car’s systems also did not detect any manual attempt to brake prior to the crash.

Brown had hands off the wheel “for the vast majority of the trip.” 

The NTSB report is in agreement with an earlier report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which exonerated Tesla from blame for the accident. 

Neither investigation determined the cause of the crash. According to the NTSB’s findings, there is no record of a forward collision warning (FCW) or an automatic emergency braking (AEB) event at the time, or just prior to the time of the crash. 

A month after the accident, Tesla said in a blog post that neither the driver nor the car’s Autopilot system noticed the tractor trailer’s white side against a bright sky. “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,” the company wrote. 

In September 2016, Tesla thoroughly updated its Autopilot system, switching to a radar-based system instead of a camera-based one. The radars should be better at detecting obstacles on the road, no matter which shape or color they are. The new system also shuts down Autopilot if the driver fails to hold the wheel after a warning. 

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