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Family of man killed in Tesla auto crash hires law firm

14 April 2018

Tesla Inc. withdrew on Wednesday from a party agreement with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that was part of the NTSB's investigation into a fatal Model X collision with a concrete barrier on March 23 in California.

"It's been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they're more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety", a Tesla spokesperson told FOX Business. In a statement, the automaker said it chose to remove itself from the investigation because of the NTSB's restrictions on sharing information before the probe ends.

The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB. Tesla said that "even though we won't be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB".

Tesla also noted that the crash was so severe because the crash attenuator - the safety barrier on the highway that is created to reduce impact - was damaged from a previous accident and hadn't been replaced yet.

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The dispute between the safety agency and vehicle maker stems from statements the company made regarding Walter Huang, a 38-year-old who died last month in his Model X using the driver-assistance system known as Autopilot. Autopilot had warned the driver with both visual and audible notifications that he was to retake the wheel, Tesla said, having sifted through the car's logs from the time of the crash. Once on the scene, the NTSB takes charge of an investigation, and involved parties usually sign an agreement not to release crash details without specific approval from the safety board.

A letter written Thursday to Tesla CEO Elon Musk from NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt states, "only appropriate NTSB personnel are authorized to publicly disclose investigative findings".

The unusual move came two days after Tesla released its strongest statement yet, blaming the driver of the crashed auto, Apple engineer Walter Huang, for what happened.

While rare, the NTSB has revoked party status in other investigations.

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Reports indicate that the NTSB wasn't pleased with Tesla's public comments that the driver was at fault in the accident. "Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents - such a standard would be impossible - but it makes them much less likely to occur".

However, according to the company, Huang kept his hands off the wheel despite the vehicle's repeated warnings to retake control - a decision Tesla believes places the blame squarely on Huang himself rather than their Autopilot technology. The only way the accident could have happened is if Huang "was not paying attention to the road, despite the auto providing multiple warnings to do so, "according to a statement Tesla sent April 10 to Dan Noyes, an investigative reporter with California's ABC7 News". Tesla says for every 320 million miles cars equipped with Autopilot drive, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities.

Last month, Tesla upgraded its onboard media computer in new Model S and Model X vehicles and now owners have been experiencing a significantly more responsive center display.

"Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving auto is likely to be several times that of a vehicle which is not", said Musk.

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Family of man killed in Tesla auto crash hires law firm