Citing broken rules, agency boots Tesla from fatal accident investigation

Stating that Tesla violated the investigation party agreement of a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model X on March 23 in Mountain View, California, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has removed the automaker from the process. The NTSB Office of Public Affairs announced the revocation of Tesla’s party status in a news release Thursday.

Tesla was uninvited as a party to the investigation process after the electric car manufacturer publicly blamed the driver, Walter Huang, for the accident, NPR reports.

The NTSB investigation “party system” invites organizations able to give technical assistance to participate in the investigations. According to the agency, investigations generally last for 12 to 24 months.

Tesla accepted the NTSB invitation to participate with party status during the investigation of the March 23 crash. When an organization agrees to be involved with an investigation, it also agrees to follow the rules established by the NTSB.

The relevant part of the Information and Guidance for Parties to NTSB Accident and Incident Investigations agreement and the reason that Tesla is no longer an active party to this accident is section VIII, titled Release of Information.

VIII. Release of Information
Prior to the NTSB’s adoption of the final report, only appropriate NTSB personnel are authorized to publicly disclose investigative findings, and, even then, the release shall be limited to verified factual information identified during the course of the investigation. In addition, party participants or their respective organizations must refrain from providing opinions or analysis of the accident outside of the participants in the investigation. Failure to abide by these requirements may lead to removal of a party from the investigation.

That section states before the final NTSB report, investigation parties should not give public opinions or analyses to anyone not directly involved with the organization. Any party that doesn’t stick to the agreement may be removed from the investigation.

The NTSB news release summed up the change with a clear explanation:

“The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB. Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.”

NPR reported an email from Tesla asserting that the company proactively withdrew from the investigation.

“Last week, in a conversation with the NTSB, we were told that if we made additional statements before their 12-24 month investigative process is complete, we would no longer be a party to the investigation agreement. On Tuesday, we chose to withdraw from the agreement and issued a statement to correct misleading claims that had been made about Autopilot — claims which made it seem as though Autopilot creates safety problems when the opposite is true.”

Tesla is still a party to ongoing investigations of a Tesla Model X crash in Lake Forest, California, on August 25, 2017, and a January 22, 2018, crash of a Tesla Model S near Culver City, California.

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