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The Apple engineer who was killed when his Tesla crashed in autopilot mode was playing a video game on his smartphone, the National Transportation Safety Board said this week.
Walter Huang, 38, died in March 2018 after his Tesla Model X crashed into a safety barrier in Mountain View, California. Shortly after, the NTSB launched an investigation into the crash that spanned nearly two years. And on Tuesday, the NTSB held a hearing to release its findings.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt opened the hearing by saying that partially automated systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot mode, are not true self-driving car systems.
“If you own a car with partial automation, you do not own a self-driving car,” Sumwalt said. “Don’t pretend that you do.”
As a result of its investigation, the NTSB found that Huang was playing a game on his smartphone when his Tesla veered into the meridian barrier.
Sumwalt added that the NTSB has made recommendations to six automakers to stop the practice of partial automation, and only Tesla has failed to respond.
“What struck me most about the circumstances of this crash was the lack of system safeguards to prevent foreseeable misuses of technology,” Sumwalt said.
The NTSB chairman went on to be very clear about partially automated systems. “… when driving in the supposed ‘self-driving’ mode: you can’t sleep; you can’t read a book; you can’t watch a movie or TV show; you can’t text; and, you can’t play video games.”
In addition to slamming partially automated cars, Sumwalt also criticized the U.S. Department of Transportation’s lack of regulation on autonomous vehicles, as well as Apple’s lack of any policy to instruct employees not to use its devices behind the wheel.
Despite the NTSB’s findings, the lawyer representing the Huang family said that the family will continue to pursue their lawsuit against Tesla and the State of California.
“Mr. Huang was using Autopilot where Tesla told its customers it was safe to use,” the lawyer, Mark Fong, said. “The Autopilot in Mr. Huang’s Tesla failed to perform according to its claimed capabilities.”
Prior to the accident, Huang had complained about Autopilot, though Tesla engineers failed to duplicate the issue and left it unfixed. The Huang family is also seeing the State for failing to maintain a highway safety feature that may have made the crash less severe.