Car Accident Florida 2015

Photo Joshua Brown was killed when his Tesla Model S, which was operating in Autopilot mode, crashed into a tractor-trailer. Credit Krista Kitchen, via Associated Press

Eight months after a fatal crash involving a Tesla Motors car operating in a computer-assisted mode, federal auto-safety regulators said their investigation of the car found no defects in the system that caused the accident and said Tesla’s Autopilot-enabled vehicles did not need to be recalled.

The outcome is a major win for Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, who has forcefully promoted the car’s technological prowess and ability to prevent accidents. The crash on May 7, 2016, attracted widespread attention and threatened to sidetrack the company’s push toward autonomous vehicles.

The regulators warned, however, that advanced driver-assistance systems like the one in Tesla’s cars could be relied on to react properly in only some situations that arise on roadways. And the officials said that all automakers needed to be clear about how the systems should be used. Almost all major automakers are pursuing similar technology.

“Not all systems can do all things, ” said Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that investigated the car involved in the May accident. “There are driving scenarios that automatic emergency braking systems are not designed to address.”

Tesla’s self-driving software, known as Autopilot, has proved adept at preventing Tesla cars from rear-ending other vehicles, but situations involving crossing traffic — as was the case in the crash that regulators investigated — “are beyond the performance capabilities of the system, ” Mr. Thomas said.

“Autopilot requires full driver engagement at all times, ” he said.

First introduced in October 2015, Autopilot uses radar and cameras to scan the road for obstacles and other vehicles, and can brake, accelerate and even pass other vehicles automatically. It tracks lines on highways to stay within lanes.

The investigation was set off by the accident that killed Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old from Ohio. His 2015 Tesla Model S was operating under its Autopilot system on a state highway in Florida when it crashed into a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road in front of his car.

Tesla has said its camera failed to recognize the white truck against a bright sky. But the agency essentially found that Mr. Brown was not paying attention to the road. It determined he set his car’s cruise control at 74 miles per hour about two minutes before the crash, and should have had at least seven seconds to notice the truck before crashing into it.

Neither Autopilot nor Mr. Brown hit the brakes. The agency said that although Autopilot did not prevent the accident, the system performed as it was designed and intended, and therefore did not have a defect.

Car Accidents

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