NTSB Says It’s `Unhappy’ Tesla Disclosed Details of Fatal Crash

Federal safety investigators say they’re displeased with Tesla Inc.’s disclosures about the March 23 crash involving one of its vehicles that killed a California driver.

The electric-car maker run by billionaire Elon Musk said in a blog post late Friday that computer logs recovered from the Model X driven by Wei Huang, 38, show he didn’t have his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the sport utility vehicle collided with a highway barrier and caught fire. The driver had “about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view” of the divider and an already-crushed crash cushion that he collided with, according to the company.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that while Tesla has cooperated well in previous accident investigations, the carmaker had acted preemptively by discussing the latest crash. The agency plans to release a preliminary report in a few weeks.

“The NTSB is unhappy with the release of investigative information by Tesla,” Christopher O’Neil, an agency spokesman, said Sunday. “The NTSB is looking into all aspects of this crash including the driver’s previous concerns about the Autopilot.”

The Washington Post reported the NTSB’s statement earlier Sunday. The newspaper also said the driver’s family told San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO-TV that he had previously complained to a Tesla retailer about the vehicle swerving toward the median. The company said it could find only evidence that he had complained about the navigation system that is separate from Autopilot.

Guarded Investigations

The NTSB historically guards the integrity of investigations closely, demanding that participants adhere to rules about what information they can release and their expected cooperation. These so-called parties to investigations must sign legal agreements laying out their responsibilities.

The safety board has in some cases thrown airlines, aircraft manufacturers and unions off of investigations in cases where they were either making unauthorized statements or not producing information that was expected of them. Because the NTSB is a relatively small agency with limited numbers of employees, it relies heavily on these parties to assist its investigations. The agency has subpoena power that it’s used in rare instances to compel companies involved in investigations to provide information.

The Tesla accidents the safety board has investigated before are unusual in that the data about how the car was being operated is proprietary and can’t be accessed by the agency’s investigators. Aircraft black boxes, by contrast, use a common data standard that allows NTSB and other investigative agencies to access the data without any assistance from those under investigation.

Last year, after its first accident investigation of a Tesla crash, the NTSB reiterated previous recommendations calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop common data standards for highway vehicles and require them on new cars and trucks to ease access to the data.

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