SAN FRANCISCO — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed that it has launched an investigation of a fatal crash on May 7 involving the “Autopilot” function in a 2015 Tesla Model S.
The NTSB probe is independent from investigations already launched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Florida Highway Patrol.
Another federal agency’s entry into the case will certainly bring extra scrutiny to Tesla’s push for semiautonomous-driving features, Autopilot in particular.
Beyond what’s believed to be the driver’s inattentive behavior on the Autopilot mode, investigators are likely to dissect the software heavily programmed into Tesla’s Autopilot feature. Unlike other cars on the market, Tesla has created a genuinely software-centric car capable of adding new features via software updates.
The NTSB’s move also highlights the widely questioned investigatory abilities of the NHTSA. Critics have challenged the automotive industry’s primary regulatory body on its experience, its technical chops, and whether it has enough resources and authority to properly investigate the crash — especially on the software issues that go to the heart of Tesla’s Autopilot.
While the development of autonomous cars remains an unregulated field, the NTSB’s investigation could trigger the reset button on the industry’s rush to self-driving technology.
Thus far, tech companies such as Google and Tesla, and traditional car OEMs have been experimenting with proprietary autonomous technologies with little oversight and no established testing protocols.
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