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Tesla and NTSB Feud Over Safety Probe

Tesla and NTSB Feud Over Safety ProbeThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has removed Tesla Inc. from its role in the investigation of a fatal crash involving one of its vehicles, claiming the automaker violated an agreement not to disclose information while the probe was still ongoing.

The decision was relayed to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk on April 11. However, Tesla contends it dropped out of the investigation, alleging that restrictions on disclosures of information about the accident could jeopardize public safety by blocking the timely release of relevant information to the public, including information about its Autopilot driving system.

The NTSB’s move came after Tesla made public statements that appeared to blame the driver of a Tesla Model X who died in a March crash—statements that were apparently made in violation of agency protocols. In NTSB investigations, the agency guards their information closely, demanding participants adhere to strict rules about what information they can and can’t share with the public. The participants must sign legal agreements that lay out their responsibilities.

“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,” Tesla said in a statement. “We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable.”

Although they will no longer be a formal party to the probe, Tesla said they will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.

Violating protocol

Tesla has released information about the crash several times recently, suggesting the driver, Walter Huang, was to blame. They stated that the vehicle’s Autopilot was activated in the moments leading up to the crash, and Huang’s hands weren’t detected on the Model X’s steering wheel for six seconds before the fatal accident.

A Tesla spokesperson explicitly assigned blame to Huang, saying, “The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang wasn’t paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.”

An NTSB spokesman said the agency was unhappy with Tesla for disclosing details during the investigation, leading to them removing the company from the probe. The company’s statements violated agency protocol for an accident investigation by alleging the cause of the crash.

When a company no longer has formal status as a party to an NTSB investigation, they can lose access to information uncovered in the investigation—and thus lose the ability to shape the official record of the incident. Removing themselves from the process won’t stop or hinder the investigation, said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the NTSB who is now senior vice president at O’Neill & Associates, a Washington lobbying and public relations firm.

Goelz did say Tesla’s statement that it was withdrawing from the so-called party agreement was likely a preemptive move to get ahead of the NTSB announcing that the agency was giving Tesla the boot.

“The NTSB is a trusted investigatory agency. Their processes can be challenging and frustrating but they are ultimately fair,” Goelz said. “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.”

To be clear, NTSB does not prohibit participants in investigations from releasing general information about their products or vehicles. Any factual information that could have been released about a product before an accident can be released after an accident as well. What is not allowed is any release of information about or related to the accident itself.

If you suffer injury in a car accident due to the negligence of another party, talk to the Georgia car crash attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP. We can help you with your case and ensure your rights to compensation are protected. To arrange a no-obligation consultation, call us at 404-961-7650 at our Atlanta office, in Savannah at 912-651-9967, or fill out our contact form.




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