Tesla: U.S. Closes Probe Of Fatal Autopilot Crash, Company Avoids Recall

Tesla, an electric automaker founded in 2003, has come out on the winning side of a lengthy investigation regarding their semi-autonomous Autopilot feature. According to Reuters, U.S. regulators have now claimed that they were unable to detect any "evidence of defects in Tesla's electric cars." The company has also now avoided a recall, per Reuters.

The accident that brought Tesla's semi-autonomous autopilot feature into the spotlight occurred near Williston, Florida, in May of last year. Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio man, was using his Tesla Model S in autopilot mode when he collided with a tractor-trailer that was attempting to turn left in front of him.

An investigation was opened shortly after the crash on June 28, 2016, meaning that it lasted for over six months. At the time the investigation was opened, Tesla released a statement on its blog, and the company claimed that both the driver and Autopilot failed to see the "white site" of the turning vehicle "against a brightly lit sky." Tesla also said that it was "the first known fatality" in more than "130 million miles" since Autopilot first became available.

Tesla has continued to tweak its Autopilot system, and in September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk argued that the new 8.0 version of Autopilot could have prevented the incident.

Although the well-publicized incident certainly raised questions about the Autopilot feature for some, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now investigated the issue thoroughly, failing to find any defects.

Per the official report, at the time the investigation was opened, its purpose was to "examine the design and performance of any automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash." While the investigation is now closed and a defect that might jeopardize driver safety has not been detected as of now, NHTSA closes out the summary of their report by indicating that they may be taking another look at the issue in the future -- should the need arise.

"The closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that no safety-related defect exists," NHTSA explains in the statement. "The agency will monitor the issue and reserves the right to take future action if warranted by the circumstances."

On Tesla's website, the Tesla Team assured customers that their safety is their No. 1 priority, and the company said that it "appreciate(s) the thoroughness of NHTSA's report and it's conclusion." CEO Elon Musk, who is also the CEO and founder of SpaceX, weighed in on Twitter, calling the report "very positive."

In the NHTSA report, it is explained that driving systems, such as Autopilot, require the complete and undivided attention of the driver. Per the report, the incident in Florida involved "a period of extended distraction," which NHTSA explains as lasting "at least seven seconds." As the Washington Post reports, this means that the driver should have had seven or more seconds to react to the oncoming threat.

Consumer Reports has taken issue with Tesla's Autopilot in the past as well. Last October, Consumer Reports had a more positive view on Autopilot after Tesla's 8.0 upgrade but said it "still needs improvement." According to the International Business Times, the German government has also been critical of term "Autopilot" and reportedly asked Tesla to stop using it, saying it is "misleading."

In addition to Autopilot, Tesla is also very much involved in the driverless car phenomenon. In October, Tesla reported that all of their new vehicles would have self-driving capabilities, although the system was not yet ready to be enabled.

According to the Motley Fool, Musk has set a goal for Tesla to have driverless cars on the streets by 2018.

[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]