Tesla objects to government restrictions on releasing accident data on a fatal crash in California late last month

New York (AFP) - Tesla said Thursday it plans to file a complaint with the US Congress over the handling of a probe into a fatal crash, especially over public disclosures about the investigation.

In the latest round in the spat with National Transportation Safety Board, a Tesla spokesperson accused the agency with being “more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety.”

Tesla said it “withdrew” from an agreement to participate in the investigation into a fiery March 23 crash in California that involved its “Autopilot” feature.

But the NTSB announced the “removal of Tesla,” after the company disclosed information the agency said could taint the public understanding of what happened, in violation of the agreement.

Tesla hit back at the statement from the independent federal agency that investigates aviation and transit accidents, and questioned its motives.

“Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“We don’t believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress.”

The NTSB is investigating the accident that led to the death of a 38-year-old father of two, Walter Huang. Huang’s family signaled this week that it is exploring legal action against Tesla.

“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 Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in a statement.

The agency has removed companies before, but the move is “rare,” it said.

- ‘Misleading claims’ -

Tesla said the NTSB objected to its public statements so the company withdrew from the investigation Tuesday “and issued a statement to correct misleading claims that had been made about Autopilot – claims which made it seem as though Autopilot creates safety problems when the opposite is true.”

The company also plans to file a legal request for documents from the NTSB about its investigations.

Tesla has released several statements on the accident, including in a March 30 blog post that expressed sorrow for the family, but defended its technology and pointed responsibility for the crash on the driver.

Huang’s hands were “not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” Tesla said in the blog.

“Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents -– such a standard would be impossible -– but it makes them much less likely to occur. It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists,” the company said.

The company also noted that the accident occurred at a confusing highway interchange, and the protective shield on the concrete barrier involved in the crash was not in proper condition.

Tesla on Thursday defended its disclosures, saying the agreement with the NTSB “requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively,” a company spokesperson said.

- Transparency -

“We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable.”

Tesla will “continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB,” the spokesperson added. The company remains party to two other ongoing crash investigations.

The NTSB said Tesla flouted the deal with the agency, and noted that despite the confidentiality, parties are able to “take any immediate actions necessary to ensure safety.”

While Tesla and the NTSB sparred over the disclosures, a lawyer representing Huang’s family said the survivors would “explore legal options” following the fatality.

“The firm’s preliminary review has uncovered complaints by other Tesla drivers of navigational errors by the Autopilot feature, and other lawsuits have also made this complaint,” Minami Tamaki said in a strongly-worded statement.

“The firm believes Tesla’s Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused Huang’s death.”

“The family wants to investigate this incident and help ensure that this tragedy does not happen to other consumers who buy semi-autonomous vehicles,” said Mark Fong, a partner at Minami Tamaki.