US transport may fix part of blame for fatal Model S crash to Tesla

Federal accident investigators are set to affix a part of the blame for a 2016 Model S sedan crash on Tesla Inc's auto-driving system.

The investigative staff of US National Transportation Safety Board, in its first probe of the first autonomous driving systems being introduced by carmakers, has recommended that Tesla's Autopilot system be declared a contributing factor in the crash as it allowed the driver to go for long periods without steering or apparently even looking at the road, Bloomberg reported citing a person briefed on the findings.

According to commentators, the recommendations and findings of the safety board could have implications for AV systems on vehicles and trucks, and it comes as Congress is debating legislation to spur development of autonomous vehicle systems. Tech and auto companies are investing billions of dollars in the development of self-driving vehicles, which, according to car makers could be deployed in less than 10 years.

The NTSB will meet today to discuss findings on the crash and the conclusions are subject to revision by its board members.

Meanwhile, transportation secretary Elaine Chao will today unveil safety guidelines for automakers seeking to market self-driving cars. Though the NTSB does not have regulatory powers, its recommendations do carry weight with regulators, according to commentators.

Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, was using the sedan's cruise control and lane-keeping features, that comprised Tesla's Autopilot system, when he was killed in the 7 May, 2016, crash.

The sedan crashed into the underside of a semitrailer that was turning onto a divided highway in Williston, Florida, near Gainesville. The roof of the sedan was sheared off as it emerged on the other side of the trailer  (See: Florida death puts big question-mark on Tesla autopilot ).

According to the NTSB it is the first known fatal crash of a highway vehicle operating under automated control systems. At the time, Tesla said, the cameras on Brown's sedan failed to distinguish the white side of the semitrailer from the bright sky.