U.S. report says Tesla in fatal Autopilot crash was speeding

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A driver killed in the May 7 crash of a Tesla Motors Inc TSLA.O car while using Autopilot driving-assist software was exceeding the speed limit, U.S. highway safety investigators said on Tuesday in a preliminary report that did not state a probable cause.

A Tesla Model S involved in the fatal crash on May 7, 2016 is shown with the top third of the car sheared off by the impact of the collision of the Tesla with a tractor-trailer truck on nearby highway and came to rest in the yard of Robert and Chrissy VanKavelaar in Williston, Florida, U.S. on May 7, 2016. Courtesy Robert VanKavelaar/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said its preliminary findings showed the Model S was traveling at 74 miles per hour (mph) in a 65-mph zone at the time it struck a semi-truck near Williston, Florida.

Joshua Brown was killed when his vehicle drove under the tractor trailer. It was the first known fatality involving a Model S operating on the Autopilot system that takes control of steering and braking in certain conditions. The accident increased scrutiny of automated driving technology.

The report said the NTSB confirmed the Model S driver was using the advanced driver assistance features Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer lane-keeping assistance at the time. The NTSB has not yet determined the probable cause of the crash.

The initial police report into the crash estimated Brown’s speed at 65 mph.

Speeding alone would not be considered the cause of a vehicle crash, but could be a contributing factor, said NTSB spokesman Christopher O’Neil.

“All aspects of the accident remain under investigation,” O’Neil said, adding that the agency will typically release a final report about a year after the preliminary report.

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Chief Executive Elon Musk has repeatedly said the company has no plans to disable the feature.

A lawyer for the Brown family, Jack Landskroner, said in an email on Tuesday that the findings were preliminary and that the investigation was ongoing.

A Florida Highway Patrol investigation is continuing and the police force has no plans to criminally charge the truck driver, Sergeant Kim Montes said Tuesday.

She said the police force is still considering whether to issue a traffic citation to the truck driver for failing to yield. A lawyer for the truck driver did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The NTSB report said the force of the initial impact of the crash resulted in the battery disengaging from the electric motors powering the car. After exiting from underneath the truck, the car traveled 297 feet, then collided with a utility pole. The car broke the pole and traveled an additional 50 feet.

Tesla faces a separate investigation by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into whether the

system poses an unreasonable risk to driver safety.

Editing by James Dalgleish and Jeffrey Hodgson