NEW YORK: Tesla said Thursday it will no longer participate in a US probe of a fatal crash after disagreeing with officials over public disclosures about the investigation.
Tesla said it “withdrew” from a party agreement governing a National Transportation Safety Board probe into a fatal March 23 crash in California that involved its “Autopilot” feature,
The company said it withdrew due to a dispute with regulators was a matter of “transparency.”
But the NTSB announced the “removal of Tesla,” after the company disclosed information the agency said could taint the public understanding of what happened, in violation of the agreement.
The agency has removed companies before, but the move is “rare,” it said.
“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,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in a statement.
The agency is investigating the accident that led to the death of a 38-year-old father of two, Walter Huang. Huang’s family signaled this week that it is exploring legal action against Tesla.
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’s hands were “not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla said in the blog.
“Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents — such a standard would be impossible — but it makes them much less likely to occur. It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists,” the company said.
The company also noted that the accident occurred at a confusing highway interchange, and the protective shield on the concrete barrier involved in the crash was not in proper condition.
Tesla on Thursday defended its disclosures, saying the agreement with the NTSB “requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively,” a company spokesperson said.
“We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable.”
However, Tesla will “continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB,” the spokesperson added.
But the NTSB said Tesla flouted the deal with the agency when it agreed to be a party.
“Participation in the party system is a privilege, which allows the sharing of investigative information with all parties that agree to the terms of the party agreement during the early fact-gathering phase of an investigation,” the NTSB said.
This system allows parties information to “take any immediate actions necessary to ensure safety,” the NTSB said, although Tesla remains party to two other ongoing crash investigations.
While Tesla and the NTSB sparred over the disclosures, a lawyer representing Huang’s family said the survivors would “explore legal options” following the fatality.
“The firm’s preliminary review has uncovered complaints by other Tesla drivers of navigational errors by the Autopilot feature, and other lawsuits have also made this complaint,” Minami Tamaki said in a strongly-worded statement.
“The firm believes Tesla’s Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused Huang’s death.”
“The family wants to investigate this incident and help ensure that this tragedy does not happen to other consumers who buy semi-autonomous vehicles,” said Mark Fong, a partner at Minami Tamaki.