The driver of a Tesla vehicle that was killed in a March 2018 in California had reported previously that the vehicle steered toward an area off the highway on prior trips.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released Tuesday new factual information via the public docket for two Tesla accident investigations – the March 23, 2018, crash of a Tesla Model X in Mountain View, California, and the March 1, 2019, crash of a Tesla Model 3 in Delray Beach, Florida.
Walter Huang, a 38-year-old Apple engineer, was driving his Tesla Model X P100D in Mountain View in Autopilot mode at about 70 mph when it crashed into a previously damaged crash attenuator. According to the disclosed documents, Huang had reported issues on prior trips with Autopilot steering the wheel toward an area between an off-ramp and the lane known as the “gore area.”
Data from the vehicle showed that in prior trips Huang had taken corrective action after Autopilot had steered toward the area. Here is what the report says:
"NTSB identified another similar incident on February 27, 2018. At about 9:31:30 a.m., the Tesla was being operated with Autopilot activated and the driver’s hands were detected on the steering wheel. Autosteer applied a -6º steering wheel angle toward the gore area, which was followed two seconds later by a +1.3º corrective steering wheel angle away from the gore."
Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid holding the steering wheel for extended periods while using Autopilot, but the company advises drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention while using the system.
The NTSB said in the fatal crash Huang’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel in the final six seconds before the crash:
"About 6 seconds before the crash, Autosteer did not detect driver applied steering wheel torque. This lack of hands-on detection continued until the time of the crash. During this phase of travel, the Tesla entered the gore area and traveled toward a previously damaged crash cushion with no evidence of braking or evasive steering action by the driver," the report reads.
Tesla did not immediately comment.
The NTSB said Huang had been using an Apple-owned iPhone during his trip and records show evidence of data transmissions. Logs recovered with Apple’s assistance show a word building game application “Three Kingdoms” was active during Huang’s fatal trip.
The NTSB said “most players have both hands on the phone to support the device and manipulate game actions” but added the log data “does not provide enough information to ascertain whether the Tesla driver was holding the phone or how interactive he was with the game at the time of the crash.”
Regarding the probe into a third Tesla Autopilot fatal crash in March 2019 in Delray Beach, Florida, dicument show no evidence the driver’s hands were the steering wheel in the final 8 seconds.
The documents contain only factual information collected by NTSB investigators; they do not provide the final report, analysis, findings, safety recommendations, or probable cause. NTSB says that no conclusions about how or why theses crashes occurred should be drawn from the information.