NTSB issues recommendation report for traffic safety hardware in California

Sept. 11, 2019

The agency calls upon California transportation officials to develop and implement a corrective action plan that guarantees timely repairs in response to a Tesla crash in the state

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a Safety Recommendation Report this week as part of its ongoing investigation of the fatal crash of a Tesla in Mountain View, California, that took place back in March 2018.

In its report the NTSB issued a safety recommendation to the California State Transportation Agency calling upon the organization to develop and implement a corrective action plan that guarantees timely repair of traffic safety hardware and includes performance measures to track state agency compliance with repair timelines.

While the probable cause of the crash has not yet been determined, the NTSB’s investigation has identified systemic problems within the California DOT (Caltrans) that negatively affect the timely repair of traffic safety hardware.

“Rather than wait to complete all facets of this crash investigation, we have moved ahead with issuing this safety recommendation report in the interest of motorists’ safety,” said Robert Molloy, Director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety, in a news release. “Our review of Caltrans maintenance records identified examples of delayed repair of the crash attenuator at this location, including one damaged in January 2017 that was not repaired until April 2017.”

The NTSB had previously identified problems with the Caltrans maintenance program during the investigation of the fatal, Jan. 19, 2016, crash involving a motorcoach that collided with a crash attenuator on U.S. 101 in San Jose, California. In that case, the attenuator had been damaged in a crash 44 days prior to the motorcoach crash. In those 44 days, a retroreflective marker was not replaced, and that missing marker contributed to the motorcoach crash.

In the Mountain View crash, the 38-year-old driver of the 2017 Tesla Model X P100D died from blunt force trauma injuries he suffered when, at a speed of about 71 mph, the vehicle struck a non-operational SCI SmartCushion 100GM crash attenuator on U.S. Highway 101. The car then rotated counterclockwise, and subsequently collided with two other vehicles. The crash attenuator was at the end of a concrete median barrier in the gore area. According to NTSB, the attenuator was not operational, having been damaged due to a March 12, 2018, crash—11 days before the fatal Tesla crash.

The Tesla’s driver was using Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer (a lane-keeping assist system) which are features of the advanced driver assistance system Tesla calls “Autopilot.” The NTSB’s ongoing investigation of this crash will, when complete, state the probable cause and will discuss any role the Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system may have had in the crash.

The final report for this crash is expected to be finished in the first or second quarter of 2020. The recommendation issued in Monday’s report is to the California State Transportation Agency, the state agency that provides oversight for the Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol.