Fatal accident near Arendal: – Tesla’s Autopilot made the driver less engaged in the driving process

On May 29, 2020, a Tesla Model S rammed a truck driver on E18 near Arendal. The truck driver had stopped his semi-trailer on the shoulder of the road to secure the load, but he died after the collision. The National Accident Investigation Board (SHK) report on the crash has just been released.

The report says Tesla’s Autopilot system was activated at the time of the crash. The accident investigation commission “finds that the driver was less engaged in the driving process due to the use of the driver assistance systems in the passenger car, in combination with the layout of the road”, they write.

The autopilot is a driver assistance system and it was not designed to detect a conflict with a person on the road, nor to implement automatic emergency braking or an evasive maneuver in the situation. that came forward, SHK points out.

The driver’s understanding of the Autopilot car was that he would keep the car in the right-hand lane and keep a distance from any vehicles ahead in the same lane, the report said.

However, it is not the autopilot that receives the most criticism from SHK.

Heavy criticism of the Swedish Roads Administration and Nye Veier

The commission believes that an insufficient width on the shoulder of the road, as well as a lack of breakdown and warning pockets were the most important factors in the accident.

The train of wagons was left partially in the right lane after stopping, despite the driver of the wagon train having used the full available width of the road shoulder.

SHK strongly criticizes the National Roads Administration and Nye Vier: “The investigation showed that road safety has not been sufficiently protected by the National Roads Administration and Nye Veier during the design and the construction of the road section”, writes the commission.

In particular, the handling of deviations by the Norwegian Road Administration is criticized. Security was not sufficiently guaranteed in this case, SHK believes.

Built with shoulders that are narrower than standard

As part of the construction of the road, Nye Veier requested to reduce the standard shoulder width from three meters to two meters on the section in question. This was consistent with the recommendations of a risk analysis prepared as part of the application, which also recommended mitigation measures.

SHK’s investigations show that the Swedish Roads Administration criticized the risk analysis and, among other things, questioned the lack of quantitative and qualitative data on probability and consequences in the analysis.

Nevertheless, SHK criticizes the Swedish road administration for not defining explicit requirements for the introduction of mitigation measures when approving the solution with a reduced shoulder width. SHK believes that the Swedish Roads Administration should have asked Nye Veier for a new, more comprehensive risk assessment when processing the application.

Nye Veier did not choose to implement incident detection on the section or additional pockets of accidents, although this was proposed in the risk analysis.

– A very safe road

TU contacted the Swedish Roads Administration and Nye Veier for a response.

– Nye Veier takes note of the report of the National Accident Investigation Board. Such accidents are extremely rare on Norwegian roads and we are constantly working on various measures that can increase safety on our roads, communications director Christian Altmann of Nye Veier told TU.

– Our basic position is that the road between Arendal and Tvedestrand is a very safe road. As mitigation measures, we have both variable speed signs, surveillance cameras and emergency pockets, he continues.

Altmann also points out that the road’s shoulder is two meters wider than what was required when the road was planned for today’s traffic volume.

Kjell Bjørn Vinje, press officer at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, says he is pleased with SHK’s in-depth report.

– It is an important contribution to road traffic in general and to road standards in particular. We will now familiarize ourselves with the report and deal with it. We’ll come back with more detailed views, he said.

Five recommendations

The Norwegian Accident Investigation Board makes five safety recommendations in relation to the accident:

  • The Norwegian Truck Association should prepare an information campaign for professional drivers on notifying the Norwegian Road Transport Authority when stopping on a high-speed motorway where the vehicle has not the ability to get off the road completely.
  • Nye Veier is expected to introduce measures that ensure traffic safety on the E18 between Tvedestrand and Arendal.
  • The Norwegian Public Roads Administration should revise the requirements of Vegnormal N100 “Road and street design” relating to the reduction of shoulder width. Here, the standard should include requirements for documenting mitigation measures and the risk reduction effect of these, if narrow four-lane highways are permitted, they write.
  • The Swedish Roads Administration should prepare a technical guide for mitigation measures on the planned four-lane narrow highways.
  • The Norwegian Road Safety Authority is advised to ensure that accident frequency and damage costs do not increase on the planned four-lane narrow motorways, in accordance with the requirements of Vegnormal N100.

– The driver’s responsibility to be vigilant

Ingvild K. Ytrehus, director of the road and land defense department of the SHK, told TU that they expect the safety recommendations to be followed. Stakeholders were allowed to read the report and provide input prior to publication.

– We had a good dialogue with Nye Veier, the Swedish Roads Administration and the Norwegian Road Safety Authority.

She says using driver assistance systems such as autopilot and adaptive cruise control is a learning point for all road users.

– We must remember that it is the driver’s responsibility to be alert, drive carefully and maintain control of their vehicle at all times.

International interest in the accident

SHK has been working on the accident for over two years. It is longer than most road reports SHK works with.

– We spent a lot of time investigating and understanding the human factors of the accident. It also took time to understand the process surrounding the design of the road, as well as the revision of the road standard N100. In addition, we had several meetings and discussions with in parties involved, as well as taking care of the passenger car driver and relatives, Ytrehus said.

The driver of the car was sentenced before Christmas 2020 to three months imprisonment by the Aust-Agder District Court for gross negligence in connection with the collision.

TU is aware that there has been international interest in the use of autopilot in the Arendal accident, including from Canadian regional authorities. In the United States, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA is investigating Autopilot software in relation to collisions with stationary emergency vehicles.

Ralph Hutchinson

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