The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Tesla Model X crash that claimed a person’s life in California, and while Tesla was involved in that investigation up until today, it will be playing a smaller role going forward.
Tesla is no longer part of the probe into the fatal accident, according to a statement the company released this week. Its reason for doing so apparently involves Tesla’s preference for making information public.
“Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively,” the statement reads. “We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable. Even though we won’t be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.”
We’ll update this story when the NTSB posts its press release about Tesla’s departure.
However, sources told Bloomberg that it was actually the NTSB that kicked Tesla out of the investigation. Its reason for doing so was simple — its latest statement reiterates that human error was at fault in the fatal crash, but the NTSB has protocol that prevents parties in the investigation from alleging causes before the investigation wrapped up. Sounds pretty straightforward, since laying blame before an investigation wraps up is putting the cart before the horse.
Bloomberg’s source says the NTSB will issue a press release some time on Thursday addressing Tesla’s departure. Less than two weeks ago, the NTSB told The Washington Post that it was “unhappy” with Tesla’s decision to issue statements and divulge vehicle information during the investigation.
Tesla is sticking to its guns, though. “The characterization of the call as relayed to Bloomberg is false,” a Tesla spokesman said in an emailed statement. Even if Tesla was, in fact, removed from the investigation, it wouldn’t be unprecedented — Bloomberg notes that the feds have given other manufacturers the boot in the past for either making unauthorized statements or failing to provide sufficient information to the investigation.
Tesla’s defense of Autopilot makes sense, as it’s an important part of the company’s portfolio, both in terms of what it can offer now and what it can potentially offer in the future. Tesla still believes that Autopilot will continue to improve and eventually morph to true autonomy, as opposed to its current status as a semi-autonomous driver aid.
If the NTSB were to come out and blame Autopilot for the collision, it could affect consumer opinion about that tech and semi-autonomous aids in general. A similar effect came immediately in the wake of Uber’s fatal crash last month.