Personal Injury

NTSB Probing Deadly Tesla Underride Crash in Florida

tractor trailer underride test IIHS photo NTSB Probing Deadly Tesla Underride Crash in FloridaThe driver of a 2018 Tesla Model 3 was killed in Delray Beach, Florida, March 1 when the electrical vehicle hit the side of a tractor-trailer turning left.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said that Jeremy Beren Banner, 50, was driving his Tesla southbound on State Road 7 when it struck the side of a tractor-trailer turning left onto the divided highway. The underride crash sheered the roof off the Tesla. Mr. Banner died at the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team of three investigators to look into the crash. The federal agency has taken an active role in probing crashes involving Tesla cars and other vehicles with self-driving capabilities amid the push to get fully automated vehicles on the road.

Investigators haven’t said whether the Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system was engaged when the crash occurred.

The collision is remarkably similar to a deadly 2016 crash near Gainesville, Florida, involving a Tesla Model S. In that incident, Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, died when his semi-autonomous Tesla failed to apply its brakes as a tractor-trailer turned left in front of it on a divided highway. Mr. Brown’s death was the first death to occur in a self-driving vehicle.

Since his death there have been a series of other accidents involving Tesla cars equipped with Autopilot, including a fatal March 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, that killed 38-year-old Apple engineer Wei Huang, and a non-fatal crash that occurred last May when a Tesla Model S slammed into a parked fire truck in Salt Lake City.

Both Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have warned drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles not to treat the vehicles as if they can drive themselves safely all the time. But that warning underscores an operational flaw that the NTSB pointed to in its investigation of Mr. Brown’s 2016 crash – that is, Tesla’s Autopilot system performs so well that drivers may trust the vehicles too fully and let their guard down, even though the technology is a work in progress.

The NHTSA advises drivers of semi-autonomous vehicles to limit using autopilot features to interstates and other limited-access highways only. If the NTSB finds that the Autopilot was on in Friday’s crash, those warnings could be strengthened.

Tesla driver manuals emphasize that the Autopilot system is a safety backup feature and that drivers must always keep their eyes on the road and be prepared to take control if needed.