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Report: Tesla Removed from Fatal Autopilot Crash Probe After Statement Blaming Victim

Tesla said in a statement Wednesday that the only way last month's fatal Model X accident could have occurred was if the driver, Walter Huang, was not paying attention.
KTVU via Associated Press

The National Transportation Safety Board reportedly ejected Tesla from its probe into circumstances of the autopilot accident that claimed the life of Walter Huang.

Elon Musk’s smart car manufacturing company has been officially removed from the investigation into the fatal crash. In a statement by a Tesla spokesperson, the company blamed Huang himself for his death, saying that while they “empathize” with the Huang family, the impression that the company’s cars are not safe is “false” and that “the reason that other families are not on TV is because their loved ones are still alive.”

This statement fell afoul of NTSB protocols, prompting the company’s removal from the investigations over a call directly from NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt to Elon Musk himself, described by a Bloomberg source as “tense.” The billionaire entrepreneur was, as you might expect, very unhappy with the decision.

In a statement of their own, Tesla denied reports of the nature of the call, as well as their removal from the investigation. “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 companyclaimed. “We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable.” Further, Tesla claimed that “the characterization of the call as relayed to Bloomberg is false.”

But the denials ring false in the ears of forming Managing Director of the NTSB, Peter Goelz, who now works as a Senior Vice President in the Washington lobbying firm O’Neill & Associates. He said that “by removing yourself from the process, you’re really taking yourself out of play in a critical element of the investigation.” To him, Tesla’s reasoning makes little sense. If they indeed chose to separate themselves, “it will by no means stop the investigation, and it will by no means hinder the investigation.”

“The NTSB is a trusted investigatory agency. Their processes can be challenging and frustrating but they are ultimately fair,” Goelz told Bloomberg via phone conversation. “Mr. Musk and his company, and frankly the future of autonomous vehicles, would have been better served had they followed the rules and continued to participate fully in the investigation.”


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