US regulator finds no evidence of defects after Tesla death probe

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By David Shepardson | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON U.S. regulators has found no evidence
of any defects in Tesla electric cars after investigating the
death of a man whose Model S collided with a truck while he was
using its Autopilot system, the first fatality involving
semi-autonomous driving software.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said
on Thursday it will not seek a vehicle recall after conducting a
six-month investigation. The crash drew enormous attention and
raised questions about the safety of systems that can perform
driving tasks for long stretches with little or no human

The regulator’s decision is seen as a boost to automakers
racing to get vehicles that are nearly self-driving or fully
autonomous on U.S. roads in the next few years.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters
that drivers have a duty to take their obligations seriously and
automakers must explain the limits of semi-autonomous systems.

“The (auto) industry is going to have to be clear about what
the technology does and what it is does not do, and communicate
it clearly,” Foxx said.

Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old former Navy SEAL from Ohio, was
using the technology in his Model S before he collided with a
truck near Williston, Florida, last May and was killed.

NHTSA said in a report that Brown did not apply the brakes
and his last action was to set the cruise control at 74 miles
per hour (119 kph), less than two minutes before the crash.

The agency said Brown “should have been able to take some
action before the crash, like braking, steering or attempting to
avoid the vehicle. He took none of those actions.”

Tesla Motors Inc said “the safety of our customers
comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s
report and its conclusion.”

Jack Landskroner, a lawyer for Brown’s family, said they
plan to evaluate all of the information from government agencies
investigating the crash “before making any decisions or taking
any position on these matters.”

Tesla in September unveiled improvements to Autopilot,
adding new limits on hands-off driving and other features that
its chief executive officer said likely would have prevented a

NHTSA said in the report that drivers could be confused
about whether the system or the driver is in control of the
vehicle at certain times. The agency also said its decision to
close the investigation was not contingent on the software
improvements announced in September.

NHTSA also said an analysis of Tesla data suggested the
vehicle crash rate fell by 40 percent after the installation of
its Autosteer lane-keeping function.

The investigation was closely watched by automakers who are
introducing semi-autonomous features and pursuing fully
self-driving vehicles. Brown’s death raised questions about
whether regulators have the authority to oversee rapidly
developing vehicle technologies.

In October, CEO Elon Musk said all new Tesla models will
come with an $8,000 hardware package to enable them to be fully
self-driving. By the end of 2017 a Tesla should be able to drive
in full autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York “without
the need for a single touch” on the wheel, Musk said.

Rival automakers have said they expect to be able to field
autonomous driving capability by around 2020.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is also
probing the crash, said there have been no reported incidents in
the United States involving a Tesla in autopilot mode that
resulted in fatalities or injuries since a Pennsylvania crash in
July injured two people.

Tesla has introduced restrictions on Autopilot after
concerns arose that the system lulled users into a false sense
of security through its “hands-off” driving capability. Drivers
are temporarily prevented from using the system if they do not
respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

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