Tesla Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and a top U.S. transportation safety investigator spoke over the weekend to patch things up after testy exchanges related to the investigation of a fatal crash.
Musk and Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, talked by phone over the weekend, agency spokesman Peter Knudson said. The two discussed the March 23 fatal crash in California involving a Tesla Model X that’s under investigation, plus recommendations the agency made after its probe of a 2016 deadly crash involving a Tesla Model S, Knudson said. Both drivers had engaged Tesla’s driver-assistance system Autopilot.
“Chairman Sumwalt had what he described as a very constructive conversation with Mr. Musk,” Knudson said in an email. A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment on the call.
The conversation followed an April 2 tweet by Musk that was dismissive of the board’s role in regulating cars and defended the company’s release of information regarding the recent crash, which ran afoul of NTSB protocol. In a March 30 blog post, Tesla said that the Model X driver’s hands weren’t on the steering wheel for six seconds prior to the fatal crash.
An NTSB spokesman on April 1 said the agency was “unhappy” with the disclosures by the company.
The NTSB is investigating the March 23 crash as well as a collision in January involving a Tesla Model S that was using Autopilot when it rear-ended a fire truck parked on a freeway near Los Angeles.
The death of Model S driver Joshua Brown in May 2016 spurred a NTSB report in September in which the agency recommended that automakers do more to guard against driver misuse of automated vehicle control systems. The NTSB said Autopilot’s measurement of interaction with the steering wheel was an ineffective method for ensuring that the driver was engaged with the task of operating the vehicle.
By Ryan Beene and Alan Levin