Tesla’s Lack of Black Boxes Makes U.S. Crash Probes Difficult


When a Tesla Inc. Model X slammed into a concrete highway barrier in California last month, the vehicle’s computers contained a wealth of information about the moments leading to the fatal accident.

The problem for U.S. accident investigators is that the information wasn’t easily accessible. The data stored on the Tesla is in a proprietary format that can only be accessed by the company. Similarly, the information the vehicles beam to Tesla computers on a regular basis can’t be obtained without the company’s cooperation.

“It makes a challenging investigation more so,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director at the National Transportation Safety Board who is now senior vice president at O’Neill & Associates, a Washington lobbying and public relations firm.

Unlike the trove of information contained on an airplane’s crash-proof recorders – the so-called “black boxes” that capture flight data and sounds from the cockpit in an easy-access format – the NTSB needs the help of automakers such as Tesla to view the information from the growing number of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.

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