back to article Tesla autopilot driver 'was speeding' moments before death – prelim report

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report into the Tesla crash that killed Joshua Brown, a 40-year-old Ohio man who was using the car's Autopilot function at the time of his death. Brown was driving down US Highway 27A in Florida when a truck hauling a 53-foot trailer packed with …

Full Autopilot?

"System performance data also revealed that the driver was operating the car using the advanced driver assistance features Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer lane keeping assistance."

Was he using autopilot or not? It sounds like a subset of autopilot systems, rather than the Full Monty.

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Re: Full Autopilot?

I *believe* that is the Full Monty of what is currently available. It is just the lazy media that call it Autopilot.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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Re: Full Autopilot?

"Autopilot" appears to be the collective name for a suite of features, rather than a single system. You wouldn't use all of those features at any given time, for example you're not going to use Autopark when driving down the highway. But if you're using Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer, then the car is controlling the speed and steering; that is the full monty in terms of the car driving itself.

Ref. Tesla Autopilot press kit

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Re: Full Autopilot?

"It is just the lazy media that call it Autopilot."

Both Musk and Tesla call it "autopilot" in PR and interviews.

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"It's clear from the preliminary report that if the trailer had been equipped with side Mansfield bars the driver would almost certainly still be alive today."

It would also be clear that he'd be alive today if he were actually looking at the fucking road.

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Bar none

It's not even true on it's face. I researched this for 5 minutes and discovered that Europe does indeed require side guards, but only to protect pedestrians and bicyclists, not people in passenger vehicles!

It stands to reason that bars heavy enough to stop a 55kmh car anywhere along that long truck body is going to be heavy, cumbersome, and expensive. Few crashes come at the side of a big truck compared to the back end it appears. Something about trucks being really big, slow, and noticeable I guess.

Even safety-minded Europe didn't promote the bars policy to that extent, yet this article suggests weak US policy had a hand in this guy's death. No it didn't. And if there HAD been such massive bars, he would have hit them at a fairly extreme speed that no bar is expected to survive, anywhere.

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Re: Bar none

A cheaper solution would be to paint "THIS IS A TRUCK" in an OCR friendly font on the side of large white semi trailers

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Coat

It would also be clear that he'd be alive today if he were actually looking at the fucking road.

Then again, if people were engaging in such lurid activities on the road itself, possibly not. The phrase, "get a room" comes to mind.

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Re: Bar none

> "A cheaper solution would be to paint "THIS IS A TRUCK" in an OCR friendly font on the side of large white semi trailers."

Why not just ban white trucks? Personally I'd be most pleased to see some creativity from the carriage industry. Something in a day-glo paisley would be nice...

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Re: Bar none

Or military camouflage patterns?

Er ...

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Re: Bar none

However, John, side bars would have (most likely) been detected by Autopilot, and stopped the car - no impact necessary.

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Re: Bar none

But the car systems might have spotted the bars as well ...

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TRT
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Re: Bar none

There are many trucks I've seen on the UK highways disguised as fruit salad, or burgers and fries.

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Re: Bar none

No need to ban white trucks just ban matching sides and tyres. The lorry in question has big black tyres, no sure how the car sensors missed them. Pretty sure the victim missed them because he wasn't looking.

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Re: Bar none

>Or military camouflage patterns?

I did nearly hit a Landrover once in a green country lane. It pulled out of a gap in the hedge and I didn't see it - because the owner had painted it in camouflage pattern.

I reckon that "I didn't see it" would have been a valid defence since the owner when to a lot of effort to make it so that people couldn't see it.

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"THIS IS A TRUCK"

With the bonus that it's easily hackable with some whitewash, by blanking off the T and modifying the R to an F ; )

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Bars

At 74 MPH it seems that more likely that Mansfield bars on the sides on the trailer would have just ensured he died there rather than a few feet down the road.

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Re: Bar none

Many commercial truck (lorry) trailers in the USA are now fitted with "trailer skirts," which improve the aerodynamics of the trailer, and thus improve the fuel economy of the truck. Had the trailer been fitted with skirts, the car's LIDAR would probably have seen them and prevented the collision.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailer_skirt

But I agree with the OP: paying attention to the drive would have done the trick.

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"It would also be clear that he'd be alive today if he were actually looking at the fucking road."

Or if the truck driver was. Pulling out across traffic in a way that requires any form of evasive manouevres on the part of other drives is careless driving at minimum.

There's no single point of failure here - a bunch of things went wrong and there was a large degree of fault on both parts, yet the tesla driver is being demonised. The fact remains, had the other driver been obeying road rules there would have been no opportunity for a crash.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

The driver was (reportedly) watching a movie.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

Sigh... I weep for Humanity. =-(

I don't all the time Darwinian selection is allowed to continue and this increasingly looks like just such a case.

I weep for humanity when I read of yet another call to ban something a sensible person wouldn't do. The one that pushes my buttons most is when some prat wraps themselves around a tree going too fast for the conditions there is always a demand for a reduction in the speed limit. Gone off a cliff in snow? Councils fault for not putting up barriers. Driven into a horse in the New Forest at night or in fog? Demand the horses be daubed with luminous paint. FFS.

Demanding lorries be painted in patterns the computer running beta software can more easily spot is not the solution to this problem.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

@Shadow Systems, while I partly agree I think you overestimate our "speed" we are in fact rather slow and our peripherals are slow too. Lots of tests about it. Our multitasking ability is rubbish also. Then again a computer system will react only according to its programming. We have also a emergency system which is a lot faster but out of our control. A "classical" example of it, is when you drop a burning fag in between your legs when driving (have some rather scary experience) or why not a cup of hot coffee.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

I think you're basing your judgement on 1980s computers. They're a bit faster now.

I certainly DO take my feet of the pedals when I use Adaptive Cruise Control on my car (i.e. radar-guided speed control), not least because I can get my foot onto the brake pedal more quickly when it's flat on the floor in front of the brake, than when it's down on the accellerator.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

Things that YOU can react to faster than any computer can sense, scan, locate a match in a database, determine a Threat Level, calculate the appropriate reaction, then begin those reactions. What YOU took about a heartbeat to think "SWERVE!" might have taken the computer a second or more of massive amounts of computational grunting to come up with, so by the time it thinks "Swerve" it's too damned late.

The computer doesn't have to decide that the vehicle's about to hit a cyclist, or a child, or a duck, or an elephant, it just has to decide not to hit whatever's suddenly in front of it and take appropriate action.

In the time you took to decide what is usually the wrong course of action (swerving) and act on that decision, the computer's already stopped the vehicle. Congratulations!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

"I think you're basing your judgement on 1980s computers. They're a bit faster now."

He was talking about _humans_, not computers.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

"not least because I can get my foot onto the brake pedal more quickly when it's flat on the floor in front of the brake, "

You'll spend as long lifting and placing it as if you were on the loud pedal.

I tend to set my foot just above the brake pedal when using ACC. It's extremely useful on country lanes where you can get on the brake that much faster when some idiot comes round a blind bend on the wrong side of the road, driving too fast for the conditions.

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Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

"Demanding lorries be painted in patterns the computer running beta software can more easily spot is not the solution to this problem."

It strikes me that if some sort of high visibility markings (which the truck in the accident conspicuously lacks) were made mandatory it would benefit everyone on the road.

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Happy

Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

@ Sorry that handle is already taken.

My point too but the "swerving" is interesting. Breaking in a panic is very normal and sometimes it happens to be the right thing to do and sometimes not. The problem with breaking is that you lose your ability to affect your direction. The car will take the direction of the tangent. People who drive during the winter tend to know it well. So apart from swerving or breaking there is the possibility that adding some speed or a combination is the right thing to do. As we all know we are all a lot better as drivers as the average while on the other hand we make silly mistakes (if we are honest about it).

Somebody mentioned "in a heart beat", which is a second for me and a computer can do a lot in that time.

There is a very interesting case for breaking or swerving, the Titanic. As we know they did both. It's claimed that had they taken the iceberg head on they would have destroyed two perhaps three water tight compartments in the front and they would have survived. But such a decision on the bridge would have been "unhuman" and the poor captain would have been ridiculed and accused of wreaking the ship out of stupidity. And assuming they turned port and that the propeller turned clock wise on forward then reverse would have prevented to some degree the ship from turning port. Perhaps adding some speed could have helped instead. All more than a human can deal with in a heart beat.

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Speed profile

There was a report that he passed another driver, earlier, when the other driver said she was doing 85mph. With this 74mph at impact indicates that he slowed dawn after that.

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TWB

Time machine anyone?

If anyone has one handy and could go back and check what happened please - it would save a lot of speculation and rumours.

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Re: Time machine anyone?

You're in luck — the car has almost certainly complete recollection of everything that happened during the whole thing.

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"Mansfield bars are mandatory on the rear of trucks in the US but, unlike Europe, not on the sides."

Probably because of ride height issues. More parts of the US have high humps, particularly at railroad crossings. Trucks routinely get stuck there because the hump catches under the trailer and lifts it off its wheels. Plenty more then get struck and destroyed by trains.

Any Mansfield bars capable of stopping a car would aggravate the hump issues, and there's no money to address the humps because many of these roads are locally maintained by communities constantly strapped for money.

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Once in a smallish town I lived in, some genius tried to get across some tracks in his big new 4x4, but not at a grade crossing. It didn't work. He was trying to figure out what to do, when he heard the horns of the next freight (80 trains per day in that town).

Whereupon he was seen running down the track, trying to flag down that freight.

It did stop, eventually...

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Happy

Mansfield bars

You'd think Mansfield bars would be large, round and located (in pairs) on the front of the vehicle.

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Re: Mansfield bars

"You'd think Mansfield bars would be large, round and located (in pairs) on the front of the vehicle."

Those are called Dagmars.

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The humps are addressable relatively easily and cheaply, but inertia is a big issue.

All it takes is a federal standard for level crossings to require they really are level for 50 feet each side of the crossing, with the teeth that noncompliant crossings get closed off on safety grounds (railway companies prefer as few grade crossings as possible so they won't be contesting this)

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Mansfield bars

Personally, I read the comment regarding the Mansfield bars more as referring to their high visibility than their ability to stop a car going at that speed. I mean, I'm sure they would have helped cut down the distance the car travelled, but I suspect it would still have passed under the semi had it been travelling at the same speed on impact, at which point it would unfortunately have been too late for the passenger. But a combination of the Tesla spotting the bars in time to start rapid deceleration and the bars' stopping power itself could certainly have avoided total disaster.

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Re: Mansfield bars

Exactly - sensor visibility more than physical resistance.

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TRT
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Re: Mansfield bars

Swinging black and yellow beams on rigid pivots. Obviously not swinging out to the sides...

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Anonymous Coward

Mansfield bars???

Do you mean "DOT bars"? Those bars that hang down on the back of a truck or trailer with reflective tape on them to attract attention to them? Oh but wait. Isn't there also something in the rule book about having reflective tape on the surface edges of the trailers so that their upper and lower bounds are easily identified??

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Re: Mansfield bars???

I guess that's the same rule book that covers being in control of your vehicle.

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Re: Mansfield bars???

That's what they call them in 'Murica, yes.

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Re: Mansfield bars???

In my neck of the woods they are called I.C.C bumpers or car catchers.

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Re: Mansfield bars???

Also known as rununder bars, most work well at shopping large debris getting jammed under the trailer or chassis, the impact however is often just as fatal. If Tesla are serious about safety ditching the autopilot and fitting a 12" spike in the centre of the steering wheel might be a good start for focusing the drivers mind on driving...

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Not an AI

Eye movement tracking needed at least for now until the system is a fully fledged AI.

Legally the person driving with assistance should still actually be driving or ready to and paying attention as John Tserkezis quite rightly points out.

If it couldn't spot a truck could it spot a pram under the same conditions, nice new beige stroller and mother in her lightly coloured outfit cos it's a hot day?

Driver education goes a fair way but complacency would still set in to a degree as the person using this system for a long time would increasingly trust it more and more if it constantly performed with no dramas, human nature being what it is.

If that Raspberry Pi AI can beat a trained fighter pilot surely with better sensors there should be no problem.

Small low powered radio transmitters are not that expensive and could be retro fitted to older vehicles and mandatory on new sending an 'I'm' here signal out.

On a sunny day going through a junction where I had right of way was nearly hit in the side door in front of a local passing Policeman and because she was so angry at me he came over, her defence was "his cars the same colour as the road" it was! She got back in her car and drove off in a huff, I got a number plate as a souvenir jammed in the wheel arch. Old junker so wasn't worth the hassle taking it any farther.

Anyone on here who's used a motorcycle will tell you plenty of tales of near misses or worse through car drivers ability to not notice a brightly coloured bike, rider and helmet.

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Re: Not an AI

>Small low powered radio transmitters are not that expensive and could be retro fitted to older vehicles and mandatory on new sending an 'I'm' here signal out.

Not going to happen, I'm afraid. Any suggestion of this sort (adding additional hardware to in-service cars/planes/etc) almost universally fails to appreciate the real costs.

Every model of car will need a unique one, and it will need designed, tested and homologated, which will cost hundreds of thousands if not millions per model. It will need fitted by a dealership, who will need to provide a courtesy car for the day (probably cost about £100-£150 including labour, admin etc). The MOT will need changed to include it, additional equipment required to test it is installed and working correctly (probably cost about £100,000 per MOT station). There are about 35,000,000 cars in the UK - even if the gizmo itself was only a few quid in production, the total cost of a programme like this, in the UK alone, will run into the hundreds of millions at a minimum, probably the billions. Who is going to pay? The government (ie the tax payer)? Existing vehicle owners who won't benefit? Or the new-start companies like Tesla? None of those three are plausible.

And it would take years. Probably much longer than it will take for the AI to improve to the point it isn't needed.

Now consider vehicle import/export, the use of foreign vehicles on the UK's roads, etc. So unless the entire world implemented these simultaneously, the auto cars could not rely on it existing, so it won't even do any real good.

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Re: Not an AI

"Who is going to pay?"

The drivers, that's who, likely by way of a mandate to do it within, say, ten years. They pay one time for the device or their car isn't declared roadworthy (this would also fix the import issue). The driver either pays up or gives up driving. Either way, you likely end up with safer roads.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not an AI

"On a sunny day going through a junction where I had right of way was nearly hit in the side door in front of a local passing Policeman and because she was so angry at me he came over, her defence was "his cars the same colour as the road" it was! She got back in her car and drove off in a huff, I got a number plate as a souvenir jammed in the wheel arch. Old junker so wasn't worth the hassle taking it any farther."

I've tried several times to parse this paragraph and I'm at a complete loss. You were "nearly hit", but somehow ended up with a number plate jammed in your wheel arch. A Policeman witnessed an accident (or not), and "came over", but appears to have had no other input into the situation. You were the victim of an accident serious enough to bother mentioning despite it seeming to have no relevance whatsoever to the story or the rest of your post, but, despite having a Policeman as a witness, and (literally) having the number plate of the offender, you didn't bother to pursue it.

Bizarre.

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