Washington, DC (CNN)Tesla seems ready to move forward with a broader roll out of its autonomous driving software after a federal government investigation raised questions about initial, headline-grabbing findings from a fatal Tesla crash in Spring, Texas, last month.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased upgrades and the expansion of his company’s driver assistance software in a series of tweets Wednesday.
Local police said immediately after the April crash that they were certain no one was in the Tesla’s driver’s seat at the time of the crash, which killed two men. But the federal government released a preliminary investigation into the April 17 crash this week, and said security camera footage showed the Tesla’s owner getting into the driver’s seat at the beginning of the trip. The car traveled about 550 feet before crashing, the report said.
It’s unclear if the driver would even have had time to climb out of the driver’s seat before the crash, or if the driver climbed into the rear seat following the crash.
Constable Mark Herman, who leads the Harris County police precinct that initially investigated the crash and concluded the driver’s seat was empty, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Herman’s initial claim had raised questions about the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot, its suite of driver assistance features.
Tesla tells its drivers to remain in the driver’s seat and remain attentive when Autopilot is active. The software is only capable of handling limited driving tasks, and drivers need to be prepared to take over at any moment. But some drivers have posted clips of themselves exiting the driver’s seat, creating dangerous situations. Drivers have also died in crashes in which they had Autopilot active and were not paying enough attention to the road.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is conducting the investigation into the fatal crash in Texas, has not concluded if Autopilot was active at the time of the crash. The safety agency may not complete and release its report for a year or longer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also investigating, and has 28 active investigations into Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, according to a spokesperson.
The NTSB told CNN Business that it tested a Model S P100D, the same Tesla model involved in the wreck, on the road where the crash occurred and found that adaptive cruise control, one of Autopilot’s feature, could engage, but Autosteer, the other Autopilot feature, which steers a vehicle, could not.
Meanwhile, Tesla continues to develop its driver assistance systems. Musk said Wednesday that subscriptions for a more advanced version of Autopilot, “full self-driving,” will roll out in about a month.
“I think we’re maybe a month or two away from wide beta. But these things are hard to predict accurately,” Musk tweeted.
Musk is known for setting aggressive deadlines and sometimes missing them. He said in March that a button to download the beta “full self-driving” software would be added in 10 days.
Tesla owners have continued to wait for “full self-driving” since 2016. A small group has been allowed to test the software since last fall. Drivers who test the software have said they’ve seen significant improvements.
Musk said Wednesday that there were “gigantic” changes to the “full self-driving” beta as Tesla polished the software. He also said the upgraded system would no longer brake unexpectedly when driving through shadows under bridges and overpasses, an apparent bug many drivers have dubbed “phantom braking.”
While the high-profile Texas crash has not appeared to hamper Tesla’s ability to roll out a long-promised feature, Tesla’s autonomous driving software has faced other controversies.
California Highway Police said they arrested 25-year-old Tesla driver Param Sharma this week for reckless driving after he rode in the backseat of a driverless Tesla on a highway outside San Francisco. Days after his arrest ,Sharma appeared undeterred, again riding in the backseat of his Tesla, according to video from the Bay Area television station Fox 2.
NHTSA is also investigating a May 5 crash in which a Tesla crashed into an overturned semi truck on a state road near Fontana, California, killing the Tesla driver. It’s unclear if Autopilot was active in the crash.
While the Autopilot system is not perfect, it’s popular with many Tesla drivers. They say they feel less tired after using Autopilot on long road trips.
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