U.S. auto-safety regulators: No defect found in Tesla Autopilot

Nathan Bomey
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U.S. auto-safety regulators said Thursday they had not discovered a safety defect in Tesla Motors' partially self-driving vehicle system after opening an investigation into the matter in June.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had closed an investigation into Tesla's so-called Autopilot system without finding any issues that would require a recall.

The system was thrust into the spotlight after an Ohio resident named Joshua Brown was killed May 7 in an accident in Florida in which his Tesla Model S crashed into a truck that crossed his path.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who vigorously defended the safety of company's partially self-driving system, said on Twitter that NHTSA's conclusion was "very positive."

“At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion," Tesla said Thursday in a statement.

NHTSA probed whether Brown's death was connected to the Autopilot feature, which enables automated braking and steering on the highway.

In a report released Thursday, NHTSA investigators said that Brown should have seen the truck for "at least" seven seconds before impact, calling it a "period of extended distraction." He "took no braking, steering or other actions," NHTSA concluded in a report distributed on the final full day of the Obama administration.

A lawyer for Brown was not immediately available to comment Thursday afternoon.

Tesla has billed the Autopilot system as the first real-world application of a partially self-driving feature but has always insisted that drivers keep their hands at the wheel, ready to take over at any given time.

Still, Musk said in September that updates to the system, including additional radar, likely would have prevented the man's death.

While noting that it had not discovered a problem with the system, NHTSA left open the possibility that it could reopen the investigation.

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

The agency also said that automakers must make it clear to drivers that current self-driving systems aren't capable of handling all situations on the road. Even the most advanced systems currently available for sale require drivers to take control of the wheel at a moment's notice.

"I think you're going to find that greater clarity is needed," NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said. "It's not enough to put it in the driver's manual and believe that drivers are going to read that and follow that."

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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