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Tesla has been removed from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into a fatal accident that occurred while a Model X was using Autopilot, the agency announced today.
“The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB,” the agency said in a statement. “Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.”
Still, its unclear if Tesla was removed or voluntarily left the investigation. Tesla said Wednesday that it chose to leave the investigation over the dispute.
“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 company said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. “We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable.”[Update: 5:30 p.m. ET] Further advancing the public feud, Tesla sent Thursday an updated statement to CNBC saying they left the investigation on Tuesday and plan to complain to Congress.
“It’s been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they’re more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety, the Tesla statement to CNBC said. “Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts. We don’t believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress.”
The accident in question took place on March 23rd near Mountain View, Calif. when the driver crashed into a concrete lane divider. Tesla issued a statement after the crash saying that while Autopilot was activated, the vehicle’s recorded data suggests that the crash occurred when the driver failed to put his hands on the wheel after several warnings to do so.
The NTSB said it was “unhappy” with the statement.
“In each of our investigations involving a Tesla vehicle, Tesla has been extremely cooperative on assisting with the vehicle data,” an agency spokesman told the Washington Post. “However, the NTSB is unhappy with the release of investigative information by Tesla.”
Musk then responded to a TMC story posted on Twitter to justify the release of information.
Lot of respect for NTSB, but NHTSA regulates cars, not NTSB, which is an advisory body. Tesla releases critical crash data affecting public safety immediately & always will. To do otherwise would be unsafe.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 2, 2018
Following a television appearance by the driver’s family, Tesla again issued a statement saying the driver ignored warnings to take the wheel. That statement seems to have contributed to the conflict with NTSB.
As noted by Bloomberg, Tesla’s loss of formal status as a party to the NTSB investigation means it can lose access to certain information uncovered in the probe and the ability to shape the official record of the incident.
While rare, the NTSB has revoked party status in other investigations. In 2009, the NTSB revoked the party status of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in the investigation of a midair collision over the Hudson River. In 2014, the party status of both the Independent Pilots Association and UPS were revoked during the investigation of the crash of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Ala.