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US ends Tesla fatal crash probe with no recalls or fines

AP, WASHINGTON

A photo provided by the US National Transportation Safety Board via the Florida Highway Patrol shows a Tesla Model S that crashed while in self-driving mode on May 7 last year.

Photo: AP

Tesla Motors Inc will not face a recall or fine as a result of a fatal crash involving its Autopilot system, but US safety regulators are warning auto manufacturers and drivers not to treat semiautonomous cars as if they were fully self-driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday said it found that the system had no safety defects at the time of the May 7 crash in Florida, and that it was primarily designed to prevent rear-end collisions rather than other crash scenarios.

Automated driving systems still require a driver’s full attention, agency spokesman Bryan Thomas said, adding that automakers need to keep tabs on how drivers use the technology and should design vehicles “with the inattentive driver in mind.”

The probe began on June 28, nearly two months after a driver using Autopilot in a 2015 Tesla Model S died when it failed to spot a tractor-trailer crossing the car’s path on a highway in Williston, Florida, near Gainesville.

Tesla’s Autopilot uses cameras, radar and computers to detect objects and automatically brake if the car is about to hit something. It also can steer the car to keep it centered in its lane.

Tesla has said that before Autopilot can be used, drivers must acknowledge that it is an “assist feature” that requires both hands on the wheel at all times and that drivers must be ready to take control.

The agency’s criticism is likely to influence how automakers market semi-autonomous systems. Just about every company has or is working on similar systems as they move rapidly toward self-driving cars.

The investigation “helps clarify that cars are still supposed to be driven by attentive people, and if people behind the wheel aren’t attentive, it’s not the technology’s fault,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book.

That will help avoid the stigma that the technology causes accidents, he said.

Tesla on Thursday said it appreciated the agency’s thoroughness in reaching its conclusion.

The company that made the camera and computer system for Tesla said in September that the company ignored its warnings about possible safety problems.

Israel-based Mobileye NV said that before the release of Autopilot, it warned Tesla not to allow drivers to use the system without their hands on the steering wheel.

Mobileye, a huge player in the self-driving business, has stopped supplying components to Tesla.

Another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, has opened a broader investigation into the Tesla crash. It could be months before a final report that provides a probable cause for the collision is issued.

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