Updated at 3 a.m. ET
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking into the fatal crash last month of an SUV using Tesla’s Autopilot system, said it is removing the high-tech automaker from the probe for improperly disclosing details of the investigation.
Tesla says it withdrew from the investigation.
The NTSB is examining last month’s crash of a 2017 Tesla Model X near Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle crashed into a concrete lane divider, killing the driver, Walter Huang.
Earlier this week, Tesla blamed Huang for the accident, which the NTSB contends runs counter to agency protocols.
As Bloomberg notes, “The NTSB guards the integrity of its investigations closely, demanding that participants adhere to rules about what information they can release and their expected cooperation. These so-called parties to investigations must sign legal agreements laying out their responsibilities.”
“Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB,” the agency said in a statement. “Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash.”
“It is unfortunate that Tesla, by its actions, did not abide by the party agreement,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We decided to revoke Tesla’s party status and informed Mr. Musk in a phone call last evening and via letter today. While we understand the demand for information that parties face during an NTSB investigation, uncoordinated releases of incomplete information do not further transportation safety or serve the public interest.”
In a statement emailed to NPR, a Tesla spokesperson said the company decided to withdraw from the agreement of its own accord.
“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,” the statement said.
“It’s been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they’re more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety,” Tesla said. “Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts.”
As The Wall Street Journal writes:
“Removals from NTSB party agreements are rare. The agency in 2014 revoked party status for United Parcel Service Inc. and a pilots union in the probe of a crash of one of the package-delivery company’s cargo planes after public comments were made by each side about circumstances surrounding the accident.
For Tesla, a departure from the NTSB agreement risks diminishing the car maker’s influence over and insight into an investigation that could ultimately reach critical conclusions about one of the company’s signature products.”