NTSB confirms Tesla Autopilot engaged, driver's hands off wheel in non-fatal CA crash

The Model S accelerated into the back of a fire truck parked on Interstate 405.

The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that Autopilot was engaged but the driver's hands were off the wheel of a Tesla Model S that ran into the back of a fire truck parked on Interstate 405 in California early last year.

The report notes that the driver's hands were only only detected on the wheel for a total of 51 seconds during the nearly 14-minute span when Autopilot was active before the crash. No hands were sensed on the wheel for the final three minutes and 41 seconds before the collision.

"I was having a coffee and a bagel. And all I remember, that truck, and then I just saw the boom in my face and that was it," the driver told NTSB investigators, according to Reuters.

The Model S was traveling around 21 mph and following another vehicle that turned into an adjacent lane when it approached the stopped fire truck. The EV apparently did not detect the stationary vehicle and began to accelerate toward the cruise-control target speed of 80 mph, hitting the truck at 30.9 mph.

The accident is one of several known collisions involving drivers who did not heed Tesla's warning to pay attention to the road and remain ready to take over manual control. CEO Elon Musk has argued that some drivers are overconfident in the technology despite clear visual and audible warnings that are activated when hands are not detected on the steering wheel.

The company is presumably working to train its Autopilot algorithms to detect stationary vehicles and other obstructions that block a lane. Musk years ago talked of an advanced radar-processing method to create a "point cloud" similar to lidar, presumably helping avoid misinterpretation of dangerous obstacles as roadside infrastructure. Engineers are also focusing on the "vision problem," which could allow Autopilot to recognize such hazards through camera vision alone.

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