NTSB: Tesla in crash accelerated, veered; driver's hands weren't on wheel

Battery repeatedly caught fire, even five days later

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday the driver using Autopilot in a fatal Tesla Model X crash in California in March did not have his hands on the wheel in the six seconds before the crash in Mountain View, Calif.

The NTSB said in a preliminary report that driver Walter Huang, 38, had used Autopilot heavily that day. The car gave Huang two visual alerts and one auditory warning to place his hands on the steering wheel during the trip, though those alerts were made more than 15 minutes before the crash. Then for the six seconds before the crash, the car did not detect Huang's hands on the wheel.

The report also said that in the seconds before the crash, the Model X P100D sped up and veered into a gore area between U.S. Highway 101 and State Highway 85. The speed limit was 65 mph, and the car's adaptive cruise control was set at 75. The NTSB describes the final seconds:

  • At 8 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla was following a lead vehicle and was traveling about 65 mph.
  • At 7 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla began a left steering movement while following a lead vehicle.
  • At 4 seconds prior to the crash, the Tesla was no longer following a lead vehicle.
  • At 3 seconds prior to the crash and up to the time of impact with the crash attenuator, the Tesla's speed increased from 62 to 70.8 mph, with no pre-crash braking or evasive steering movement detected.

After striking the gore point's crash attenuator, the Tesla struck two other cars. The report also said the electric car's 400-volt battery was breached in the crash and caught fire. Bystanders pulled Huang from the wreckage before the fire engulfed the car, and he died later at a hospital. The fire was extinguished in 10 minutes, but it reignited later that day in an impound lot. Then it reignited five days after the March 23 crash, and firefighters again had to extinguish it.

Reporting by David Shepardson

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