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Tesla, NTSB clash over Autopilot investigation

Reuters  |  WASHINGTON 

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Inc lashed out at the on Thursday after the agency took the unusual step of removing the automaker as a party to its investigation of a fatal crash in March in which a vehicle's "Autopilot" system was in use.

The NTSB's action means may not gain access to some information obtained by the agency's investigators before it is made public, but frees the company to vigorously defend the Autopilot

The war of words on Thursday between the Silicon Valley automaker run by billionaire and the NTSB stood in stark contrast to efforts this week by [UBER.UL] and chief to defuse conflicts with regulators.

"violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB," the safety board said in a statement. Releasing incomplete information often leads "to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the travelling public," the agency said.

in return blasted the NTSB, saying the company chose on Tuesday to withdraw from the agreement as a formal party before the agency revoked its status.

said it had "been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they're more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety" and accused the agency of violating its own rules while trying to prevent from disclosing all the facts.

"We don't believe this is right and we will be making an to Congress," added, saying it would make an open records request to "understand the reasoning behind their focus on the safest cars in while they ignore the cars that are the least safe."

NTSB said the agency declined to comment on Tesla's allegations.

The NTSB has three pending probes into crashes.

Tesla's initial statement announcing its withdrawal did not disclose that the NTSB was revoking its status.

died after a March 23 crash and vehicle fire in a Model X near Mountain View, California, prompting investigations by the NTSB and the

Tesla's announcement late on Wednesday in came after the company publicly blamed the for the crash and made statements about the incident that drew criticism from the NTSB.

Autopilot is a semi-autonomous system that handles some driving tasks. has said it warns drivers that they are always responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said in a statement he was "troubled by Tesla's reckless disregard of its legal obligations to NTSB - potentially compromising NTSB's ability to conduct a thorough and robust investigation into the company's flawed "

AUTOPILOT

NTSB told on Tuesday the agency had a good working relationship with but that companies must follow the rules. He and Musk spoke on Friday and again on Wednesday when he told the company it was revoking its status.

"It is unfortunate that Tesla, by its actions, did not abide by the party agreement," Sumwalt said in the NTSB statement on Thursday. said that "even though we won't be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB."

Huang's family said on Wednesday it had hired firm to explore legal options, adding the firm believed the Autopilot feature probably caused his death. The firm said its preliminary review of the crash suggested Autopilot was defective.

The NTSB has not disclosed any findings.

has said Huang had activated Autopilot and it was in operation at the time of the crash. Vehicle logs from the accident showed no action was taken by Huang before the crash and that he had received warnings from the system to put his hands on the wheel, the company said.

said the always reminded drivers to be alert and keep their hands on the wheel.

The NTSB confirmed earlier this week it had two other pending investigations of crashes, including an August 2017 battery fire in Lake Forest, California, after an owner lost control and ran the vehicle into his garage. The investigation into that fire was first reported by on Wednesday.

The agency previously faulted in a 2016 fatal crash in in which Autopilot was engaged. Sumwalt said in 2017 that "system safeguards were lacking" and "allowed the to use the system outside of the environment for which it was designed and the system gave far too much leeway to the to divert his attention." said it had made improvements in the system since the crash.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by and Matthew Lewis)

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, April 13 2018. 04:21 IST
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