Bloomberg reported that the NTSB – National Transportation Safety Board – informed Tesla Inc. this week that the electric car maker was taken off from the investigation of the fatal car accident that took place a few weeks ago.
A 38 year old called Walter Huang died in March in a fatal car accident. The driver was in Tesla’s Model X and was believed to be using the company’s Autopilot autonomous driving system when the car crashed.
Tesla’s shares fell another 1.3% to trade at $297.07 by the end of the trading day. During the day, the electric automaker’s shares dropped as much as 2.4% when the Bloomberg report was published.
The Chairman of the NTSB, Robert Sumwalt called Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and conveyed the news to him. According to sources, the call was a tense one as Tesla’s Chief was upset with this decision of the transport safety board.
The NTSB kicked Tesla off the investigation because the electric car company blamed the deceased driver for the accident, which is in violation of the agency’s rules and regulations. The NTSB protects the integrity of all its investigations strongly. The agency expects all participants to adhere to rules about information sharing as well as the kind of cooperation that is expected from them. All parties involved are expected to sign legal agreements that outline all their responsibilities with regard to the investigation process.
However, Tesla also released a statement just before the NTSB news broke that it actually chose to quit the investigation. The reason was that the transport safety agency required the company not to share information about Tesla’s Autopilot system, which the company believes is actually detrimental to public safety.
Tesla, in its statement, added that they believed in complete transparency. Therefore, any rule that required them to withhold information from their customers for more than one year is not acceptable.
In a blog post on March 30, Tesla stated that according to data retrieved from the Model X showed that Huang did not have his hands on the steering wheel for at least 60 seconds before the crash took place. Elon Musk went a step further in an interview saying that Huang wasn’t paying attention to the road, despite being given several safety warnings from the car’s Autopilot system.
In response to Bloomberg’s report that the conversation between Elon Musk and Robert Sumwalt was tense, Tesla said this was wrong. However, internal sources said that relations between the top bosses of the two organizations were frosty at best.
Despite that, the NTSB believes that employees from both sides will continue to cooperate with each other. Tesla also added that even if they are no longer officially a part of the investigation, they will continue to provide all the support the NTSB may need to take this probe to its proper conclusion.
The challenge that Tesla will now face, according to a former managing director at NTSB, Peter Goelz, is that it could lose access to information revealed as part of the probe. The company will also lose the chance to influence the official record of the incident.
Goelz said that by removing itself, Tesla has taken itself out of a critical part of the investigation. While this will not help or hinder the process of the investigation, Tesla has lost the chance of making a difference in the outcome of the investigation.
Goelz feels that Tesla’s exit from the investigation was not the right one. He feels that by continuing to aid the agency, Tesla would have helped its own cause as well as the cause for autonomous driving much more.