- As reported by the NTSB, Huang's hands were not on the steering wheel when the accident occurred.
- Huang had complained about a malfunction of the Tesla autonomous driving system.
- The probable cause of the Walter Huang accident is set to be determined at a hearing on February 25.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has provided a rare glimpse into the investigation of a fatal accident involving a Tesla Model X that crashed into a crash barrier at high speed in March 2018. The accident, which occurred in Mountain View, California, led to the death of Apple engineer Walter Huang. Documents published by the NTSB show that the Tesla autopilot feature was switched on 18 minutes before the impact.
Autopilot is a driver assistance software that enables the vehicle to automatically steer, accelerate, or brake without the driver’s intervention. The current autopilot function, however, requires active monitoring by the driver. Complete autonomous operation of the vehicle is not possible.
Hands Were Not On the Steering Wheel during the Accident
As reported by the NTSB, Huang’s hands were not on the steering wheel when the accident occurred. There were also no attempts made by the driver to brake or avoid the guardrail. In the 18 minutes before the accident, Huang did not have his hands on the wheel for about a third of the time. As a result, the vehicle issued two visual and one audio warning.
Data backed up by Apple related to his iPhone use shows that the Three Kingdoms gaming application was active at the time of the accident. It cannot, however, be ascertained whether he was holding his phone or was distracted by it when the crash occurred.
Huang had Told Members of His Family about the Tesla Autopilot Problem
Published NTSB documents reveal that he had complained about the Model X navigation errors several times before the fatal crash. According to Huang’s family lawyer, he had told family members, including his wife that the car tended to steer towards a crash barrier in the mornings when driving to work.
He had also talked to his brother and a friend about the malfunction. Huang is alleged to have reported the error at a Tesla service center, but the company says that there are no logs of this report. Data from the vehicle showed that it had steered towards the direction of the guardrail on several occasions before the accident, forcing Huang to take corrective action.
Autopilot Saves Family
In another antithetical incident that happened earlier this week, the Tesla Autopilot system reportedly saved a family of five from being slammed by a falling tree.
“We were driving along the A31 and I saw the tree coming down in the blink of an eye. The car slammed the brakes on and the trunk landed on our bonnet. Literally another second and we would’ve been toast. It was huge – the biggest tree I’ve ever seen,” Laurence Sanderson, a U.K. Tesla owner says.
The probable cause of the Walter Huang accident is set to be determined at a hearing on February 25.