U.S. safety agency removes Tesla from autopilot crash probe

Elon Musk's firm has drawn an angry response for saying the fatal Model X crash was the driver's fault. AP

The NTSB said Thursday that it revoked Tesla's status as an official party to its investigation because the auto company prematurely released information related to the crash.

"While we understand the demand for information that parties face during an NTSB investigation, uncoordinated releases of incomplete information do not further transportation safety or serve the public interest", Sumwalt concluded.

Whichever version is true, Tesla's falling out with the NTSB is not a good thing for the company going forward.

"Today, Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively", the company said.

The NTSB pointed out that automakers and other companies voluntarily enter into such party agreements and that it is important to control the flow of information in order to prevent misinformation and unwarranted speculation about ongoing investigations. "Even though we won't be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB". Tesla has released several statements on the accident, including in a March 30 blog post that expressed sorrow for the family, but defended its technology and pointed responsibility for the crash on the driver.

Huang died March 23 while driving Tesla's Model X on a highway near Mountain View, Calif., a city in the tech hub of Silicon Valley. Vehicle logs from the accident showed no action was taken by Huang before the crash and that he had received warnings from the system to put his hands on the wheel, the company said. In an April 6 phone call, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt warned Elon Musk by phone that talking to the media could lead to loss of party status. A few months later, the NTSB issued its own report, saying Tesla bears some blame for Brown's death, because its vehicle didn't do enough to ensure he watched the road.

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"The crash occurred on a clear day with numerous hundred toes of visibility ahead, which signifies that the one technique for this accident to have occurred is that if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, whatever the vehicle providing numerous warnings to take motion", a Tesla spokesperson knowledgeable Reuters.

Despite the troubles around the ramp-up of its Model 3 production, Tesla is already eyeing the launch of its next model, the Y, in November next year, two unnamed sources told Reuters.

However, a lawyer for Huang's family said that by blaming the driver, Tesla is sidestepping concerns Huang's family has about the car's Autopilot capabilities, according to ABC7 News.

Teslas said it "will be making an official complaint to Congress" about the NTSB.

This is not the first time that the NTSB has removed a party from an investigation. For example, Uber is working with the NTSB to investigate the cause of last month's fatal self-driving vehicle crash in Tempe, Arizona. Tesla says for every 320 million miles cars equipped with Autopilot drive, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities. When I visited Tesla's headquarters for a Model S test drive past year, the spokeswoman made a point of walking me through the various safety warnings a driver sees both before and during Autopilot use.

But Tesla is pushing back on the NTSB's reasoning for removing the company from the investigation. That fire investigation had not previously been reported.

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