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NTSB Criticizes Apple After Fatal Tesla Autopilot Crash for Not Banning Employee Smartphone Use While Driving

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The United States National Transportation Safety Board today conducted a hearing dissecting the fatal 2018 crash of Apple engineer Walter Huang, who was using the autopilot feature of a Tesla Model X, reports CNBC.
The NTSB called Tesla’s Autosteer feature “completely inadequate” and said that Tesla’s forward collision warning system did not provide an alert, nor did the automatic emergency braking system activate, but the board also had some choice words for Apple.

At the time of the crash, Huang was playing a game on his company-issued development iPhone. He was not paying attention to the road and likely did not have his hands on the steering wheel as the Tesla was in Autopilot mode.

So first let me say, if you own a car with partial automation, you do not own a self-driving car. Don’t pretend that you do. This means that when driving in the supposed “self-driving” mode: you can’t sleep; you can’t read a book; you can’t watch a movie or TV show; you can’t text; and, you can’t play video games. And, that is precisely what we found in this crash – the driver was playing a video game on his smartphone when his car veered into the median barrier.

In a statement, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt criticized Apple for not having a policy that prevents employees from using their iPhones while driving.

Let me circle back to the issue of driver distraction – one that involves the role of employers. Employers have a critical role in fighting distracted driving. At the NTSB, we believe in leading by example. Over a decade ago, under the leadership of my former colleague and NTSB chairman, Debbie Hersman, NTSB implemented a broad-reaching policy which bans using Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) while driving. We know that such policies save lives.

The driver in this crash was employed by Apple – a tech leader. But when it comes to recognizing the need for a company PED policy, Apple is lagging because they don’t have such a policy.

During the hearing, the NTSB said [PDF] that employers play an important role in preventing distracted driving. A strong policy is an effective strategy for cutting down on distracted driving, and Apple has no policy that prohibits cell phone use while driving.Apple in a response provided to CNBC, said “We expect our employees to follow the law.” In California, where the crash took place, there are distracted driving laws that prohibit the use of cell phones while driving, even in vehicles with an autopilot mode.

Apple has also implemented a Do Not Disturb While Driving feature that activates when a driver attempts to use a cellular phone while driving, though it can be disabled.

The NTSB’s goal is to get all employers to implement and enforce policies that ban the use of personal electronic devices while driving.

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