The National Transportation Safety Board announced Thursday the removal of Tesla as a party to the NTSB’s investigation of the March 23 fatal crash of a 2017 Tesla Model X near Mountain View, California.
The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB. Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.
The NTSB has used the party system for decades as part of its investigative process and offers party status to those organizations that can provide technical assistance. Tesla was offered and accepted party status for the NTSB investigation into the Mountain View crash. Participation in the party system is a privilege, which allows the sharing of investigative information with all parties that agree to the terms of the party agreement during the early fact-gathering phase of an investigation. This sharing ensures that a party to an investigation has sufficient information to take any immediate actions necessary to ensure safety. For example, the NTSB issued an urgent safety recommendation on March 19 related to the crash of a sightseeing helicopter in New York City, which allowed corrective actions to be carried out immediately.
“It is unfortunate that Tesla, by its actions, did not abide by the party agreement,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We decided to revoke Tesla’s party status and informed Mr. Musk in a phone call last evening and via letter today. While we understand the demand for information that parties face during an NTSB investigation, uncoordinated releases of incomplete information do not further transportation safety or serve the public interest.”
NTSB investigations are comprehensive, independent, and thorough. They generally take 12 to 24 months to complete. Transparency in the investigative process is achieved through the public release of on-scene information, preliminary reports, and the public docket, as well as through board meetings that are open to the public.
While rare, the NTSB has revoked party status in other investigations. In 2009, the NTSB revoked the party status of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in the investigation of a midair collision over the Hudson River. In 2014, the party status of both the Independent Pilots Association and UPS were revoked during the investigation of the crash of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama.
“There is nothing in the party agreement that prevents a company from enacting swift and effective measures to counter a threat to public safety,” said Sumwalt. “We continue to encourage Tesla to take actions on the safety recommendations issued as a result of our investigation of the 2016 Williston, Florida, crash.”
As it is the manufacturer of the vehicle involved in the Mountain View crash, the NTSB expects Tesla’s future cooperation with data requests. Further, Tesla remains a party to the ongoing investigations of the August 25, 2017, crash of a Tesla Model X in Lake Forest, California, and the January 22, 2018, crash of a Tesla Model S near Culver City, California.