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Finance Tesla won't formally cooperate with the NTSB on fatal Autopilot crash investigation (TSLA)

Tesla has withdrawn from an investigation "party agreement" with National Transportation Safety Board.

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tesla model x crash play

tesla model x crash

(KTVU via Associated Press)

  • Tesla has withdrawn from an investigation "party agreement" with the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • The agreement was in effect for the agency's investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla on Autopilot in California last month.
  • The NTSB had expressed disappointment that Tesla was continuing to release details of the crash to the public.
  • Tesla also pushed back on a Bloomberg report saying the NTSB intended to remove Tesla from the investigation before the carmaker decided to end the agreement.

Tesla on Wednesday withdrew from a "party agreement" with the National Transportation Safety Board in effect for the agency's investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla on Autopilot in Northern California last month.

"Today, Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively," a Tesla representative said in a statement.

"We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable," the representative added. "Even though we won't be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB."

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the NTSB had informed Tesla on Wednesday, before the carmaker decided to end the agreement, that it would be removed from the investigation. Bloomberg cited unnamed sources with knowledge of what it described as a "tense" call between Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, and the agency's chairman, Robert Sumwalt.

A Tesla representative told Business Insider, "The characterization of the call as relayed to Bloomberg is false,"

Sumwalt and Musk are said to have spoken over the weekend about the NTSB's unhappiness with Tesla's revealing details about the crash. In the past, the NTSB has terminated party agreements for that reason.

A focus on Autopilot

On March 23, a Tesla Model X operating on the company's Autopilot semi-self-driving system crashed into a freeway divider and caught fire; the driver later died from his injuries.

It was the second fatality in an Autopilot-related crash in the US. In 2016, a Tesla Model S collided with a semitrailer truck in Florida, killing the driver of the Tesla.

The NTSB, normally tasked with investigating aviation crashes, also looked into that crash. Additionally, it is investigating an incident earlier this year in which a driver who says his Tesla was on Autopilot rear-ended a fire engine.

Since the crash, Tesla has released several statements and blog posts suggesting that the driver in the latest crash ignored warnings to take control of his Model X. On Wednesday, the company said the only way the crash could have occurred was if the driver was not paying attention.

The latest news indicates that Tesla may intend to present an account of the crash stressing that Tesla informs owners that Autopilot is not a fully autonomous system that allows for extensive hands-free operation.

What is a party agreement?

The purpose of party status is to enable NTSB investigators to receive technical advice and guidance.

"As a condition to being granted this status, parties sign an agreement that explicitly prohibits them from releasing investigative information to the media or to comment or analyze investigative findings without prior consultation with the NTSB," the agency explained in detailing a 2014 instance when the agreement was violated. "Once the investigation is completed, all such restrictions are lifted."

Tesla has published two blog posts since the crash providing information and restating its position on Autopilot's limitations and potential to improve safety.

Earlier Wednesday, Tesla responded to reports that the driver, Walter Huang, had complained to his family about his vehicle's performance on Autopilot in the area where the crash occurred.

"According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location, yet he nonetheless engaged Autopilot at that location," Tesla said in a statement.

Tesla shares were trading down slightly on Thursday, to $299.

Read more about the fatal Tesla Model X crash: