The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Tesla Model X crash that claimed a person's life in California, and while Tesla was involved in that investigation up until today, it will be playing a smaller role going forward. Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.
But shortly after Tesla put out its statement, the NTSB hit back with its own (very different) version of events. However, Tesla might have made the decision to "withdraw" to preempt NTSB's plan to kick the automaker out of the agreement.
"There is nothing in the party agreement that prevents a company from enacting swift and effective measures to counter a threat to public safety", said Sumwalt. Tesla said it would "continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB".
The deadly accident took place on the morning of March 23rd near Mountain View, California.
The role of Autopilot is central to the investigation into the March 23 accident in which Walter Huang, of San Mateo, was killed when his Tesla crashed into a barrier between Highway 101 and Highway 85, in Mountain View. A subsequent investigation by Tesla determined that Autopilot was engaged during the time of the crash, and that that driver had not touched the steering wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.
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 crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility head, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. [Walter] Huang wasn't paying attention to the road, despite the vehicle providing multiple warnings to do so", a Tesla representative told The Wall Street Journal.
The family's lawyer believes that the company is doubling down on putting the blame on Huang in order to distract from their concerns about his vehicle's Autopilot. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware.
Tesla remains a party to other ongoing investigations the NTSB is running, including a Model X crash in August 2017, and a Model S crash in January of this year.
The Model Y is just one of many projects in the pipeline for Tesla, which also launched a Tesla Semi and a new Roadster in recent months.
The NSTB rarely revokes party status in other investigations, but it has happened.
Knudson said it was the first time NTSB has removed Tesla as a party to an investigation. To save time and cost, Tesla made the risky bet to skip a pre-production testing phase for the Model 3 in order to advance straight to production tooling, which is harder to fix if problems arise, as Reuters first reported past year. The safety board said then that the company and union "took actions prejudicial to the investigation by issuing comments and analysing findings before the NTSB had met to determine a cause". This happened several times on Mr. Huang's drive that day.