Late Friday confirmed that its semi-autonomous autopilot system was busy by the driver in the seconds before a fatal accident last week, raising more questions about the safety of self-propelled technology public roads.
Federal investigators this week began investigating the crash of a Type X sports car heading south on Highway 1
Tesla said his vehicle records show that the driver's hands were not detected on the steering wheel for six seconds before the collision, and he took no action despite five seconds and about 500 feet (19659007) On Tuesday, National Transportation sent Safety Board investigator to the scene, the second Tesla crash, to attract the attention of the agency this year. The NTSB, better known for its investigations into aircraft crashes, is increasingly investigating the emergence of automated driving technologies.
A deadly 2016 crash with Tesla's autopilot initially raised questions about the system's capabilities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that Tesla's technology did not contain a security defect, while the NTSB ruled that the company shared the blame for the crash by not providing sufficient security. In this accident, a Tesla Model S hit a tractor-trailer crossing a road, and the company said the system had not seen the white trailer against the bright sky.
The NTSB pointed out that the autopilot allowed a driver to ignore the company's warnings and drive for a long time without his hands on the wheel. Officials also found that autopilot could be used on roads for which it was not designed, and that a hands-on-the-wheel detection system was a poor substitute for driver warning.
The latest Tesla crash took place five days later A Uber Technologies Inc. self-propelled test car hit and killed a pedestrian leaving his bike late at night outside a pedestrian crossing in Tempe, Ariz. Uber exposed to tests of its vehicles and federal transport agencies investigate what happened.
The Uber Crash pushed lawmakers to demand and regulate further regulation of driverless technologies
and Nvidia Corp. to temporarily suspend their own testing of self-driving vehicles as a precautionary measure.
The incidents threaten the public perception of automation in vehicles as automakers and technology giants spend billions of dollars on robots steering the wheel.
At the same time, many automakers, including Tesla, are incorporating semi-automatic systems into their vehicles that allow the driver to keep their hands off the steering wheel for periods of time.
Tesla has said autopilot that can cope with certain driving tasks is not a self-driving system and makes it clear to the owners that the technology is designed to assist the driver, who needs to maintain control at all times. But the drivers know that they are too confident in the capabilities of the system.
The company has said it prioritizes safety and that autopilot improves it. In its statement on Friday, Tesla said there is a fatality in the US for every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with autopilot hardware, compared to a car total every 86 million miles across all vehicles in the country.
The increased scrutiny of Tesla's technology stems from the company's difficulty in ramping up production of its latest mass-market sedan, and investors losing patience with the carmaker. This week, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Tesla's debt rating, pointing to an expected shortfall in Model 3 production and a tight cash position.
Tesla Chief Executive
started selling vehicles in 2016 with hardware, saying he might someday be able to make the Tesla vehicle self-propelled, promising to show a car capable of moving the land in autonomous mode by the end of last year cross – a goal he missed on sales his autopilot team.
Meanwhile, Waymo, the self-propelled unit of Google Parents
seems to be ready to overtake Tesla. The tech unit has announced plans to launch a commercial robotic taxi service in the Phoenix metro area later this year, as well as an order for up to 20,000 Jaguar electric sports utility vehicles to be added to its fleet by 2020.  Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com