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 …

  1. James 132

    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.

    1. Myvekk

      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.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Full Autopilot?

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

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

    2. tony72

      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

  2. John Tserkezis

    "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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      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.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        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

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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...

          1. Nigel 11

            Re: Bar none

            Or military camouflage patterns?

            Er ...

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              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.

          2. Natalie Gritpants

            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.

        2. Tim Jenkins

          "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 ; )

      2. Stuart21551

        Re: Bar none

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

        1. Justin S.

          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.

      3. Nano nano

        Re: Bar none

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

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Bar none

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

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "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.

    4. Richard 31

      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.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why wasn't he paying attention?

      The driver was (reportedly) watching a movie.

    2. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      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.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        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.

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      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.

    4. lpcollier

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        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.

    5. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      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!

      1. Lars Silver badge
        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.

  4. Old Used Programmer

    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.

  5. 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.

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Re: Time machine anyone?

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

  6. Charles 9 Silver badge

    "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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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...

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Happy

      Mansfield bars

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

      1. Tazan

        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.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      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)

  7. RIBrsiq
    Boffin

    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.

    1. Benno

      Re: Mansfield bars

      Exactly - sensor visibility more than physical resistance.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Mansfield bars

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

  8. Anonymous Coward
    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??

    1. Phil Kingston Silver badge

      Re: Mansfield bars???

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

    2. Jonathan 27 Bronze badge

      Re: Mansfield bars???

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

    3. Tazan

      Re: Mansfield bars???

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

      1. Neiljohnuk

        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...

  9. Baldy50

    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.

    1. AndyS

      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.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        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.

        1. Darryl

          Re: Not an AI

          "Who is going to pay? The drivers, that's who."

          So hundreds of millions of drivers have to pay to install new equipment in their vehicles, including the aforementioned hassles of taking the time to get it installed, etc. because a few hundred Tesla "drivers" can't be bothered to pay attention to where they're going?

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            @Darryl -- Re: Not an AI

            . because a few hundred Tesla "drivers" can't be bothered to pay attention to where they're going?

            Why yes.... the 99% pay dearly for the 1% to have nice things.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. DanDanDan

        Re: Not an AI

        Agreed. I think "Nearly hit in the side door" means that it nearly hit the door, but instead hit the wheel arch. You'd need some sort of linguistics/anthropology degree or something to properly grok the syntax and sentence structure.

    3. PatientOne

      Re: Not an AI

      Okay, motorbikes (SMIDSY) are a different issue and has to do with how the brain cheats as much as how the eye works.

      The brain works with a snapshot then looks for changes. Certain shapes are prioritised for identification, of which vertical lines (like bikes) are not included, but horizontal shapes (like cars) are. So the eye may spot the biker, but the brain doesn't 'see' them immediately. This can be 'fixed' by taking longer to look, or to look away, then back as the brain is likely to notice a different in position of the biker, which indicates movement, which is a priority for the brain to identify.

      This is very much IT related, too, as it explained why AI development wasn't returning anticipated results, despite the servers being 'as powerful' as an organic brain: The simple fact was the human brain was cheating (taking short cuts) which the AI wasn't programmed to do. Oh, and this applies to other forms of processing, too: Organic brains really do cheat/take short cuts. It's why stereotypes are so important to us: The brain uses that to 'assume' information that isn't readily apparent based on a model or stereotype, and so doesn't wait for confirmation of said details, but proceeds and then reprocesses data as new information/corrections become apparent. Of cause, poorly developed stereotypes are detrimental, and can lead to bad conclusions and end in death. Or an expensive law suit. Or the purchase of that horrid jumper...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Not an AI

        " So the eye may spot the biker, but the brain doesn't 'see' them immediately. This can be 'fixed' by taking longer to look, or to look away, then back "

        Or to actively look for bikes. You'll still see cars but you'll see the bikes too.

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge

      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.

      Which will only tell a receiver "there's a vehicle somewhere in the vicinity". No indication of distance and direction, unless you have a directional scanning receiver and a calibrated transmitter, and even then there's no sufficiently exact way that the receiver can indicate a particular vehicle on a potential collision course.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: Not an AI

        "

        Which will only tell a receiver "there's a vehicle somewhere in the vicinity".

        "

        It would be trivial to send burst transmissions of a few milliseconds at short but random intervals that contain GPS information on position, speed and direction. The in-car computer can interpret the information gathered from all vehicles within range to predict collision dangers.

        Ships have been doing so for decades.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Not an AI

          that contain GPS information on position, speed and direction.

          Sure, but that's not a "simple radio transmitter" any more. The receiver likewise has to be adapted to pass that data on to the anti-collision system so that it can be used that way. And while it'll cost just a few cents in hardware, if you want it to be traffic-certified it will be several hundred Euros/Pounds/Dollars

      2. Vic

        Re: Not an AI

        Which will only tell a receiver "there's a vehicle somewhere in the vicinity". No indication of distance and direction, unless you have a directional scanning receiver and a calibrated transmitter

        Not so. Have a look at the ADS-B system in use in aircraft; each transmitter is sending not just a carrier, but also position and speed vector information. You could make these quite cheaply in bulk[1].

        Whether there would be sufficient precision for the distances involved on the road is another matter, of course...

        Vic.

        [1] I'm currently trying to see how quickly I can put one together for aircraft use. The commercially-available ones are a bit steep for my pocket...

  10. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Waste of time

    it doesn't matter what you do. You can't fix stupid.

    P.S. That includes the truck driver pulling out without ensuring the road was clear.

    1. AndyS

      Re: Waste of time

      You can't fix it, but you can eventually take it out of the loop. That's why there are a lot of companies, Tesla included, working so hard to produce self-driving cars - exactly (and sadly ironically) to prevent accidents like this happening.

    2. Dale 3

      Re: Waste of time

      Truck was turning across traffic (car hit at 90 degrees) Assuming worst case it had started from stationary due to waiting for oncoming traffic, a big heavy truck with low acceleration could easily take 30 seconds to complete the turn. A car going at 74 mph will cover over half a mile in 30s. The road may have looked clear for half a mile when the truck driver started his turn. If not starting from stationary the distances will be smaller, but still the point is that cars going at 74mph cover a lot more distance per unit of time than many people realise.

      1. Sweep
        Coat

        Re: Waste of time

        "cars going at 74mph cover a lot more distance per unit of time than many people realise"

        I guesstimate that a car going at 74mph will cover around 74 miles per hour.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Waste of time

          Or, in more practical terms, over 108 feet per second (> 60mph = more than a mile a minute). Meaning, in the time it would take an 18-wheeler to turn left across the intersection, a car going 74 mph would've covered 3/5 of a mile by that point (more precisely, 3256 ft in 30 seconds).

    3. Queasy Rider

      Re: ensuring the road was clear

      More than once in my driving life I have pulled out into traffic believing I had plenty of time, only to realize that I had underestimated the speed of an approaching vehicle. I managed to always save myself by jumping on the gas and scooting out of the way. I suspect that something similar happened in this case, with the Tesla going 74 at impact, and the truck unable to scoot due to its great mass. I also suspect that if the Tesla had been going 65 then it would have just cleared the truck completely, or have been automatically slowed down when its systems came face to face with the truck's rear wheels. Believing all of the above, I place no blame on either the trucker or Tesla. As usual it is the speeding drivers fault; he asked for it, he got it. Too bad, so sad.

  11. PassiveSmoking
    Coat

    In Soviet Russia...

    blueberries squash YOU!

    Sorry...

  12. Avatar of They
    Meh

    Just seems dumb not to watch the road.

    I think the idea of Mansfield bars is that the front head lights and radiator take the brunt of the hit and you are decelerating from that hit. Not using the windscreen as the point of impact and then the deceleration. From old TV safety vids that have done the rounds the bars take the hit and crumble underneath just as much as the cars crumple zones, but they stop you cutting the top of a car off.

    74 mph impact probably would have killed him regardless. internal injuries and even the Mansfield is gonna struggle to crumple before the windscreen hit.

    Should just keep your eye on the road.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dangerous attempts to fix stupid?

    You can't fix stupid

    That I agree with, but sometimes I have the feeling that by trying to out-engineer stupid we seem to entice stupid to play a bigger role. I personally think that the safety measures that the Autopilot brings could work quite well in situations where the driver remains in control (there are recorded cases where the car slowed down for pedestrians that the driver didn't spot) but I don't think we can ever out-engineer people becoming careless as a consequence of having this facility.

    When ABS brakes were introduced, it initially resulted in elevated levels of head-tail accidents because some idiots thought it somehow gave them more margin to slow down - that has eventually settled (one would guess in a sort of Darwinian fashion). I see a repeat of the same here, and I think the issue starts with people ignoring the warning that this is BETA.

    As I stated before, an active driver would have spotted something amiss because cars ahead would have started evading it, even if the truck itself was practically invisible against the background. Even the dumbest human being is still able to spot a break in an established pattern, an ability the driving AIs do not yet seem to have. We are IMHO a long distance from reliable auto-pilot facilities - they work, but we have no where near enough data on edge cases yet.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Dangerous attempts to fix stupid?

      "As I stated before, an active driver would have spotted something amiss because cars ahead would have started evading it, even if the truck itself was practically invisible against the background."

      Unless, of course, he was the FIRST car there, meaning there were no other warning signs other than the truck itself. As for the truck yielding right of way, he may well have not seen the car prior to the actual turn. Remember, the car was speeding at near 75 mph. A car can close distance rapidly at that speed.

      1. DanDanDan

        Re: Dangerous attempts to fix stupid?

        I think he must have been the first car there, otherwise the other cars in front would have been visible.

        Unless the car in front slowed down and the Tesla switched lanes to pass it. That would also make sense. The car in front would block the rear of the truck a bit, and by the time the Tesla was in the outer lane, it might be difficult to see the truck because it's white on a white background.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dangerous attempts to fix stupid?

        Unless, of course, he was the FIRST car there, meaning there were no other warning signs other than the truck itself.

        That does not make sense. We have a whole motorway full of people all moving at over 60 mph, yet somehow he's the first to approach (and failing to avoid) a vehicle forming a complete roadblock? There will have been drivers engaging in evasive manoeuvres in the few seconds this truck went from potential approaching risk to oh-my-friggin-God absolute roadblock or it would not have been just him that died there.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Dangerous attempts to fix stupid?

          This isn't a motorway. It's an arterial, which means traffic lights. If he was FIRST out of the light, pulled ahead, and there's not much between the light and the truck, he could easily have a large opening in front of him before encountering the truck.

  14. moiety

    If he hit at 74MPH, then cowcatchers might not have helped that much. Even if they did slow him down to a stop before the front half of the roof was taken off (doubtful), decelerating from 74MPH in -guesstimate- 10 feet wouldn't do him much good.

    1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Exactly. It's similar to the tests done on (IIRC) Fifth Gear that showed a when a Smart was driven into a concrete block at 70 MPH the safety cell remained intact, no external injuries to the occupants at all. Their internal organs however would be purée due to the deceleration. It took a couple of volunteers driving smart cars into very solid objects and not surviving to prompt the test to be done.

      A Tesla has more crumple zone than a Smart and had there been bars on the lorry they would have deformed too but enough to save this guy? I doubt it. His head would be less than 10 feet from the front of the vehicle, assuming negligible sideways movement of the fully loaded truck that measurement is the distance he would need to stop in.

      1. Nano nano

        "volunteers not surviving" ? link please !

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Crumple zone located between front and read bumper. Makes you drive much more safely.

      2. Richard 31
        Paris Hilton

        Only because there was noone in it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnI-LiKCtuE

        8 mins in for the verdict.

  15. Nano nano

    So if the car's so clever, how was it letting him exceed the speed limit ?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Good point. And maybe an idea for future iterations of the "autopilot" feature: if the driver sets the cruise control part of the system to exceed the speed limit, the car hands control back to him / refuses to switch to autodrive.

      I use HERE maps and a Sammy tablet as a satnav, and it pings me when I go too fast. The maps are pretty accurate regarding the local speed limits.

    2. CowardlyLion

      That was mentioned in the article. The software to monitor the current speed limit was not sufficiently reliable in practice so it is not enabled by default.

  16. James Hughes 1

    Even if he had been driving normally, given the speed of 74mph, would he have been able to stop anyway? Plenty of people get splatted like this even without the aid of cruise control.

  17. MOV r0,r0
    Stop

    If the semi had been joining a freeway, the Tesla would not have encountered the trailer at the angle it did. Transposing: if full auto-assist use had been restricted to freeways, this 'accident' would not have happened.

    The same factors that allow for higher speed limits on freeways make them the only safe place to utilise this technology at this time. We're talking cars and plebs in public spaces here, not $m planes and professional pilots in managed airspace.

  18. TRT Silver badge

    They can tell the driver didn't see the truck...

    because of the lack of skid marks.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: They can tell the driver didn't see the truck...

      Maybe it's me... but with ABS, I've not seen skid marks. Damn tough to lock the brakes/wheels with that system.

      1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

        Re: They can tell the driver didn't see the truck...

        Or the lack of skid marks was in his underpants.

  19. Alistair Silver badge
    Coat

    truck image in article

    > appears to be reversed.

    Crossing traffic to turn indicates a left turn, not a right turn.

    "Did not see trailer as it was white" -> not a good thing should be fixed. I'm wondering if the system spotted the *cab* since it would have lead the trailer out, and decided that the obstacle had cleared the field.

    Would help if we had map location to reference. (i.e. curves in the road, trees, Bushes (there is one florida you know), billboards, dead alligators etc)

    Now, I'll admit, there are always weird intersections out there but those tend to be rare around highways, and 60 is a highway in florida.

    Eyeballs on the road. Period. Always. Autowhatsis or not.

    Anything else, stupidity.

  20. captain_solo

    Having recently been engaged in teaching 2 children to drive, I think the problem is that people think these driver assist systems are as good if not better than a human driver. When someone is first learning to drive they are having to do a serious amount of conscious multitasking figuring out how to actually control the vehicle and maintain its attitude and speed correctly, respond to traffic signals and keep an eye on other vehicles. The computer systems in modern vehicles are very good at helping with this part of driving and cars have for some time been taking on this role slowly. Even my several years old car has a drive by wire acclerator pedal that takes the input from the driver into consideration with a number of other factors to determine throttle position for example.

    Once you have been driving for some time, the operation of the systems to keep the vehicle in its lane and appropriate speed envelope, obeying signals, and monitoring other vehicles around you is basically an automatic reflexive series of actions, and your higher brain functions (provided you have them...) are spent evaluating the driving environment for more subtle and distant cues. You are assimilating large amounts of input and discerning very nuanced responses at a longer range and figuring out "what" to do, instead of "how" to do it. At this point it should be obvious that this part of the driving process is not able to be reliably passed off to what is not really even a real AI, but more of an algorithmic approach that basically plays the odds and tries to come up with the best guess at how to respond to a given stimulus. This does not get you to 100% autonomy, it may never get there for all driving situations unless roadways are designed to eliminate the edge cases, and you never let a human operate a vehicle completely manually alongside the autoautos. For the most part the traditional car companies are not dragging their feet on this, they just know more about how much testing and engineering work it takes to put a huge feature change into a vehicle and ensure that is it safe in all varieties of driving situations. This is something the Silicon Valley, having in large part not enough experience building comprehensive systems for life-critical applications with complex human factors thinks should be easy if you throw enough silicon and sensors at it. Its about the real human intelligence that can't yet be matched by an algorithm - this is in effect what happened in this case, the car did what it does, but was unable to respond properly to an unforseen and perhaps extremely rare edge case.

  21. JaitcH
    Unhappy

    I remember that accident - only in 1967!

    Jane Mansfield, who always carried an impressive load of melons, was a passenger in a car with three adults up front and children, sleeping, on the back seat. The three adults were Mansfield, driver Ronnie Harrison and lawyer Sam Brody.

    They were decapitated.

    Canadian Mansfield Bars are stronger than American units, by law, but none are really that good. The BEST are MANAC - dry van trailers in the U.S. under the name TRAILMOBILE. Their advantage is the supports of the Mansfield Bars are towards the outer end - where the worst damage occurs,

    Angular hits suffer the greatest damage and deaths. Short nosed vehicles, even hitting at 90 degrees, are also heavy losers.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I remember that accident - only in 1967!

      "The BEST are MANAC - dry van trailers in the U.S. under the name TRAILMOBILE. Their advantage is the supports of the Mansfield Bars are towards the outer end - where the worst damage occurs,"

      But I doubt TRAILMOBILE rigs are recommended for areas with way-above-grade railroad crossings, since lowering the crash zone inevitably lowers the ride height, raising the chance of a hump taking the trailer off its wheels.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: I remember that accident - only in 1967!

        "areas with way-above-grade railroad crossings"

        Need to have those crossings regraded (not that difficult as all that's effectively needed is earthen ramps) or verboten for trucks. Grade-crossings are inherently dangerous and the overall best course of action is to eliminate them wherever possible.

    2. Jonathan 27 Bronze badge

      Re: I remember that accident - only in 1967!

      So what you're saying is that I need to trade my Mazda 3 in for a car with a longer hood? New Mustang here I come!

  22. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    So, the "Autopilot" suite of vehicle "enhancements" does not include a proximity triggered "Yeehaaaa!" klaxon then? Serious oversight by Tesla.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Shouldn't that just be someone saying "you're already dead" in a suitably doom laden voice.

  23. Frank N. Stein

    No thanks

    Will pass on the whole Self Driving Car thing. Don't need it. I pay attention and operate the vehicle. Non-adaptive cruise control is the only assistance I will us, thanks.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: No thanks

      What if it becomes take it or leave it? As in take the self-driving car, pay crazy car insurance to keep the privilege, or just get off the road?

  24. EveryTime Silver badge

    The Mobileye system is the problem here.

    It's good enough to explore the problems, but far from good enough for deployment.

    Especially since it screws up in scenarios that humans can easily understand.

    I'll call this Rule One of autonomous systems: Even if you build a system that is demonstrably safer on average, if it screws up in an 'easy' situation for a human, it will be rejected. We can be amazed if it does the easy-for-a-computer thing of tracking dozens of cars at once, including simultaneous merges from both sides into "blind spots" while spotting braking ten cars ahead and a pedestrian about to stroll into traffic. But if it occasionally confuses a plain white truck side for a threat-free path, that's unacceptable.

    Mobileye doesn't build a 3D model of the world, and track objects in that model. Instead it recognizes specific features in individual images. It locates and reports on road signs. It tracks lane markings, and reports on centering, upcoming curves, and features (stop lines, cross-walks). And it has rudimentary pedestrian and vehicle detection and reporting.

    I call this the 'Eliza' of self-driving. It's a simple system that is impressive in demos, but falls apart in real-life use. The pattern-matching structure is too simplistic. You can train it with more patterns, but in the end there will always be a situation that you missed.

    Here is an interesting experiment: tape a 15MPH speed limit sign on the rear of your car and pull in front a self-driving Tesla on the highway. Now think about why they *really* aren't attempting to automatically enforce the speed limit.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      "But if it occasionally confuses a plain white truck side for a threat-free path, that's unacceptable."

      But here's the catch. How do we know it would be easy for a HUMAN to see it, too? Sometimes, we assume too much and don't take the assumption that the human could be as confused as well. Or the human could be tricked by illusions and other conditions a machine would be less prone. For example, a anisotropic painting of a kid in the middle of the road, or a whiteout condition.

      The situation here is that human drivers and computer drivers approach perception from two completely different angles, and they don't overlap. The real question you have to ask is which of us can handle better in the overall scheme of things: human intuition that can't be taught because it's inborn even in toddlers (so we don't even know HOW we learn it) or tireless machine perception that's harder to fool objectively but likely easier to fool subjectively?

  25. Someone Else Silver badge
    Stop

    Fat effing chance

    Mansfield bars are mandatory on the rear of trucks in the US but, unlike Europe, not on the sides. Maybe that's something legislators might like to consider.

    What? A US legislature of any type passing a law that would cost Corporate America™ money to potentially save lives of the Little People?

    Shirley, you jest.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Fat effing chance

      Thing was, it ALSO saved Corporate America time AND money in lawsuits claiming a design flaw that doesn't take submarining into account. Handling the back behind the rear wheels was easy enough, but the sides (which affects ride height) are another matter.

  26. SimonC
    Paris Hilton

    A small £5 camera pointing at the driver that records the last 10 minutes in rotation and saves it upon a crash would probably save Tesla -millions- of pounds in lost consumer confidence and investigations.

    Paris, cos she knows about filming herself.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Unlikely, since the crash is likely to be so violent as to break the camera. Not even black boxes (and they're built to take a pounding) are immune. Plus, consider where the best place to put a camera would be (in the mirror or visor) and remember what part of the car got decapitated more than the driver.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "The crash is likely to be so violent as to break the camera"

        Who cares? It won't break the memory card and that doesn't need to be where the lens is.

        "Not even black boxes (and they're built to take a pounding) are immune."

        What kills black boxes is immersion in salt water for weeks on end.

        Cars already have black boxes. The Airbag control system constantly logs activity, snapshooting the last couple of minutes it in a near-crash or crash scenario (anywhere it moves to "arm" or "deploy" mode) and keeping the last few such events in flash.

        This logging has been used by insurance companies to decline payouts when it's shown the driver was reckless (in the case I'm thinking of, the driver was shown to be exceeding 100mph in the 30 seconds before the crash and had braked hard enough that the airbag system was anticipating a crash several times in the preceeding few minutes - all in a low-speed urban area.)

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

  27. Brian Allan 1

    "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."

    Highly unlikely at 75 mph!

  28. Roger Mew

    Laws on road safety.

    Actually something else the EU forced on the UK. Are all these to be removed from lorries if Brexit goes ahead. So now we have laminated windscreens back to zebra zone, car headlamps back to sealed beams, all these were laws forced on the UK by the EU. However back to the guy in the car, just having the lorry with markings would have made a difference.

  29. Black Betty

    High visibility tape. Daytime running lights.

    Either or both of those minor changes might not have just saved his life, but prevented the collision entirely.

    Given our ever increasing reliance of sensors to replace or augment our own senses, surely it makes sense to be as visible as possible to those sensors.

    Perhaps even go as far a putting IR strobes or some other machine visible marker on the corners (high and low) of all new vehicles. Encode some positional data and vehicle footprint into the strobing and visibility of a single lamp would be sufficient to define the entire space occupied by a vehicle. This should free up a great deal of processing power to deal with everything else.

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