The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) closed an investigation into a fatal Tesla crash that happened in Saratoga, California, in August 2020.

On November 16, NTSB announced that the investigation ended without the body taking any action. The 2019 Tesla Model 3 that caused the crash was being driven on the highway with Autopilot engaged, but the 75-year-old driver pressed the accelerator pedal, causing the vehicle to go into override mode.

The Tesla struck the rear of a minivan and then smashed into a pickup truck at approximately 110 mph (177 km/h). The EV caught fire, resulting in fatal injuries to the driver and his wife, who was also in the car.

The investigation determined that the Model 3 had issued multiple visual and audible alerts to the driver because his hands were not detected on the steering wheel while using Autopilot. The Tesla was doing about 68 mph (109 km/h) behind the minivan when the driver accelerated to 72 mph (116 km/h), causing the Model 3 to trigger Automatic Emergency Braking to avoid a crash. 

Despite that, the driver increased pressure on the accelerator to 95%, hitting the minivan and then exiting the highway while traveling at speeds of up to 114 mph (183 km/h) before colliding with the pickup.

According to the safety board, the “investigation was initiated to support the NTSB’s interest in automated vehicle performance.” However, the organization concluded after the probe that “no further action beyond this memorandum will be taken.

NTSB’s conclusion was that neither neither Tesla nor the vehicle was responsible for the crash. The accident was caused by driver error. 

Crashes involving Tesla vehicles are constantly in the spotlight because of the assumption that the EV maker’s cars drive themselves. To be fair, that assumption is somewhat fueled by the fact that Tesla calls its Level 2 advanced driver assistance capability “Full Self-Driving.” That said, the company has never claimed to have fully autonomous technology.


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