US safety board to investigate second Tesla autopilot crash

The US National Transportation Safety Board will investigate an accident involving a Tesla Inc Model S sedan that crashed into a firetruck on a Southern California freeway Monday, the agency said.

The agency will send two investigators to conduct a field inquiry of the crash that occurred near Culver City, NTSB spokesman Chris O'Neil said in an email. The investigators would focus on the actions of the driver and how the vehicle performed, O'Neil said.

The inquiry comes as the second by the safety agency into a crash involving Tesla's Autopilot feature. The system combines advanced cruise control and automatic steering systems that allow for hands-free driving in limited scenarios but Tesla says, a human driver should pay attention to the road at all times.

According to commentators, the investigation offers NTSB's highway division an opportunity to focus on broader safety issues related to automated driving technologies and how Tesla's Autopilot system functions, but may not necessarily lead to a full report and a meeting before the agency's five-member board.

According to a tweet by the union for Culver City firefighters on Monday, the driver of the Tesla said he had the vehicle's Autopilot driver-assist system engaged when it struck a firetruck while travelling at about 65 miles per hour. "Amazingly there were no injuries! Please stay alert while driving!" the union said in the tweet.

According to Tesla's owner's manual, drivers need to pay attention to the road while using the semi-autonomous Autopilot system. Tesla says, the Autopilot is a "driver assistance system" and not "autonomous driving."

In other words, the system is only designed to reduce the driver's workload by taking over repetitive and mundane tasks like staying in the lane and avoiding other moving cars.

A Tesla spokesperson said in a statement that the autopilot function is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver.