New Data Backs Up Details in a Fatal 2018 Tesla Model X Crash

On March 23, 2018, a glitch in Tesla's Autopilot technology contributed to the death of Walter Huang in Mountain View, California. As Huang's Model X approached a left exit on US Highway 101, the software apparently got the lane lines mixed up. The car steered to the left, putting itself in the space between the diverging lanes. Seconds later, it crashed into a concrete lane divider at 70 miles per hour. Huang was taken to the hospital but died soon afterward.ARS TECHNICAThis story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast.
Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board released dozens of new documents that provide a detailed understanding of the circumstances of Huang's death. The documents confirm a claim by Walter Huang's family that he had experienced this particular glitch, in this particular spot, multiple times prior to the crash. He complained to family and friends about the issue. However, the NTSB was not able to confirm another key claim: that Huang had reported the issue to Tesla. Forensic data also suggests one reason Huang might not have been paying attention to the road in the final seconds before his death: he was in the habit of playing a game called Three Kingdoms in his car while driving to work. Logs from his Apple-provided iPhone showed that he used the app during his morning commute every day the week of his fatal Friday crash. However, those logs don't provide enough information to show whether he was interacting with the game in the final seconds before his death.
The documents also point to a third possible factor in Huang's death: the government officials who designed and maintained Highway 101. This exact turnoff had been the scene of multiple crashes in the years before Huang's death—including a fatal one in 2015. One reason the 2015 crash had been fatal was that officials had been too slow to replace a crash attenuator—an accordion-like metal device designed to cushion a car's impact. Unfortunately, Huang's crash happened just two weeks after another crash in the same spot, and once again the crash attenuator hadn't been replaced. This reduced Huang's chances of surviving the crash.

Photograph: KTVU/AP
The NTSB is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Huang crash next week, where it's expected to formally determine the cause of the crash and make safety recommendations. Based on the documents released so far, it seems that both Tesla and California officials could get some of the blame.Huang’s Vehicle Had the Same Glitch in the Same Spot BeforeEver since Huang's death, his wife and brother have insisted that this wasn't the first time Huang's Model X had experienced this kind of problem. The new documents offer clear confirmation of this claim. On at least two prior occasions, Huang's Model X tried to steer into the concrete barrier at exactly the same spot along Highway 101. Each time, Huang noticed the mistake and grabbed the wheel, steering it back into the correct lane.