California highway barrier not repaired before Apple engineer’s fatal Tesla ‘autopilot’ crash

David Shepardson for Reuters:

California state transportation officials failed to repair a highway safety device seriously damaged in a high-speed crash 11 days before a fatal collision in March 2018 involving a Tesla in Autopilot mode, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Monday.

In the first crash, the NTSB said the driver of a 2010 Toyota Prius was traveling in excess of 75 miles per hour (121 km per hour) when the car struck a crash attenuator, which is designed to absorb crash forces before a vehicle hits a concrete median barrier. The driver survived with no major injuries.

In the second crash 11 days later, the driver of a 2017 Tesla Model X was going 71 mph (114 kph) when he struck the same attenuator on US-101 in Mountain View, California. The front of the Tesla separated from the rear and then collided with two other vehicles. The crash killed the driver of the Tesla, 38-year-old Apple engineer Walter Huang.

State workers discovered the damaged attenuator on March 20 but no date for replacement of the attenuator was scheduled. It was finally replaced three days after the fatal Tesla crash… The NTSB previously found problems with Caltrans maintenance after reviewing a 2016 fatal crash involving a motorcoach that collided with an attenuator on US-101 in San Jose. In that case, the NTSB determined the attenuator had been damaged 44 days before the crash.

MacDailyNews Take: Wonder how much in taxes Walter Huang paid in total to the State of California? Fat load of good it did him.


  1. Autopilot is a great idea for aircraft. Is it really a great idea for vehicles on roadways in an imperfect world where Murphy’s Law confronts us all day and every day?

    1. Rad Wagner, it sounds like you have a good point, until you consider how many fatal ascendents are caused by regular drivers in what could have been prevented by a computer assisted driver.

  2. The MDN Take is needlessly flippant. Likely thousands of other drivers passed the same unrepaired attenuator without causing a fatal accident. Given MDN’s general preference for less government involvement, this hot take comes across as a cheap shot.

    1. There are millions of spots that millions of drivers pass each day without causing a fatal accident. The article made it clear that the same spot has hosted a number of accidents over the past few years. If you’re going to force my auto manufacturer by law to include seat belts, 16 air bags, reinforced doors, etc., and force me by law to wear those seat belts, all in the case of an accident, where is the accountability of the government when they fail to maintain a safety barrier which they also mandated by law? If this were a toll road, operated by a private entity, people would be screaming for the heads of the owners/operators and there would be accountability, either civil or criminal. I doubt you’ll ever hear about this incident again.

          1. Has there ever been a 100% efficient private worker? The Law of Entropy tells us that there isn’t a 100% efficient anything. The Law of Conservation of Mass tells us that an individual worker can only be one place at a time. If there are eleven one-day jobs to do, one of them won’t get done until day eleven, no matter how urgent it is as an abstract proposition.

            A barrier attenuator only comes into play when somebody hits the barrier. Nobody in the government made these drivers speed on a dangerous curve.

      1. How safe is safe enough? Taxpayers in ‘Merica are not willing to pay the costs for a rubber padded half pipe freeway safe for all users. The reality is that it’s a body count versus tax rate balance. It can be calculated, and the USA accepts a higher body count than many nations.

        That said, repeated accidents is NOT proof that the highway was “unsafe”. There will always be the possibility of conditions that make any part of any freeway “unsafe”. It is the vehicle operator’s duty to maintain control and adapt to changing road &traffic&environmental conditions. Period.

        Onboard automotive nanny and infotainment systems have already bred a generation of distracted idiots on the road. Fender bender rates haven’t plummeted with all this tech. The primary reason there are not more deaths today than in the past is because people are now cocooned in small School Buses. Their idea of personal transportation to move their 250# ass is a 6000# truck with an empty bed. That is the personal tax people place on themselves for the illusion of safety, when in reality a carbon fiber Alfa Romeo 4C without any excess mass or electronics is by far safer on almost all paved roads. It’s carbon fiber and can stop on a dime. But the driver would have to pay attention and get off their phones, so that’s clearly not gonna sell to ‘Merican tastes.

        This is the real reason Silicon Valley thinks more automation is the answer: now that they have youth addicted to small screens, it will be easy to sell them $200k automated automobile share subscriptions in the future. They can’t be bothered to learn how to drive themselves.

        But reality gets in the way. Unless all road users have aerospace grade guidance systems and 100% of society is willing to pay for that, and the regular testing required to maintain those sophisticated systems, it is entirely predictable that more automotive grade automation will only make matters worse. Now instead of $40k cars crashing and causing a few grand in damages, it will be $200k automobiles destroying $40k in sensors when you run into the highway railing in a snowstorm.

        Automakers that put these systems on the road should be sued into oblivion when they market automation that cannot possibly live up to the dream. They are dumbing down the populace by degrees.

        1. Nice car! I might have seen one or two of these on US roads. Very rare.

          note the iPhone holders — it is not designed to put another screen in front of the driver’s face. Look’s like a proper driver’s car.

    1. Don’t confuse them with facts. EVERYTHING is the Government’s fault (if, and only if, Democrats run that government). It is only the individual’s fault if he isn’t wealthy enough to buy a Tesla.

        1. Pot, meet kettle.

          MDN started the partisan bullshit by taking a cheap shot at the California DOT. Apparently MDN believes that its state (fantasy land?) provides perfect roads with perfect safety while using zero taxes to do so. Zero attempt was made to understand what other roadwork was ongoing and possibly of much higher priority, or what investigations were being made to design improvements or conduct investigations before implementing repairs. If CA made great improvements, then the right wing would whine about high taxation necessary to do so. If CA doesn’t implement state of the art improvements, the safety nannies would be out in force bitching about lack of infrastructure. They can’t win no matter what they do. One thing is certain however: California has more infrastructure to maintain than most any other state, and it provides as high a standard as most states while spending no more as a percentage of GDP as most other states. The data is easy to find, here you go: . Economic powerhouses like WY, ND, and AK spend more than 4% of their GDP on infrastructure. CA spends 1.82% So much for the bullshit insinuation that California wastes inordinate tax dollars on the public good. But the outcomes are different! Goeb will attest. Wrong. All US states are unstellar in their infrastructure: Free spending GOP-loving Wyoming scores a D+. Cali gets a C. Good luck finding any US state with a grade better. Most other states regardless of climate or political affiliation have aging ill-maintained infrastructure that your kids will inherit.

          Goeb you have a long history of taking pot shots at anyone who doesn’t worship the nouveau GOP and Trump, its fearless leader — almost always without adding anything to the conversation but your juvenile labeling. This time your label is “drive-by liberal”. To you, everyone on the planet is a “liberal”, and we know you intend it as an insult. The problem is, you are exposing yourself as just another brainless parrot, repeating stupidities. TxUser is as straight down the middle as they come, fact based and fair. But rather than provide counterpoint or fact, you trumpists go on personal attacks. You conflate your political adversaries as being, at once, socialists, communists, terrorists, anti-Americans, Muslims, Arabs, Russians, Trolls, Devils, Godless Heathens, and so forth. The labels you and your ilk throw around are more extreme and more comical every day. Yes, the same can be said for some on the extreme left. Problem is, you can’t distinguish between the extreme left and the wide array of moderates. You paint everyone with the same extreme brush, because you are the worst form of political hack.

          Let’s stick to facts. In both crashes, the cars in question were speeding by at least 15 miles per hour over the posted limit; one human driver, one relying on Tesla autopilot. I thought it was the right wing that believed in law and order. Should speed limits be posted and enforced or not? Why should the state be blamed for not having equipment to keep people out of a ditch if they cannot even control their car within the perfect asphalt lane? Who is responsible for a speeding car losing control? You tell us. We know MDN and you and your ilk hypocritically hate both people who aren’t personally responsible but now you also buy the MDN narrative that CA government is to blame for these accidents. We can find repeated posts by you and other extreme right wingers that do in fact point all blame on a multitude of issues squarely at the government — or more specifically, any government not dominated by the Gerrymandering GOP.

          Now more than ever the US needs a 3rd large party because yours is corrupt and the other is inept. Both are lackeys for their corporate overlords.

  3. Just to get this out of my system:

    Last Friday night, I posted here that the current forecast for Hurricane Dorian showed a better than even chance that the storm would turn north before it reached the east coast of Florida. I hoped that “the usual suspects” wouldn’t try to give the President credit for saving Palm Beach. I was joking, of course. I am NOT laughing at his efforts since to portray himself as a greater expert on hurricanes than the Ph.D.’s at the National Weather Service.

    The snide editorial comment above is another example of the contempt in some quarters for the professionals in public service who are doing their best to protect their fellow citizens, despite the people’s political representatives having asked them to perform their jobs with inadequate resources.

    The guys at CalTrans, like the ones here at TxDOT, are expected to maintain decaying Highway infrastructure with very scarce resources. The decision to fix one broken attenuator is necessarily a decision not to prioritize something else, because there are too few crews and a tight budget. Yet the public will blame “lazy government drones” when something like this (or a politically inconvenient hurricane forecast) happens.

    1. Agreed.

      That being said, there are cities with safety nannies running amok spending way too much money on electronics and not nearly enough on common sense improvements.

      Off thread rant starts here:

      Several examples of wasteful short sighted infrastructure : A traffic circle costs little to build and maintain. It has the highest flow capacity of any 4-way intersection short of a cloverleaf which uses 4 times the land area. But instead of implementing them on all major intersections, US traffic experts put small traffic circles primarily on tiny residential streets as “calming devices”, with annoying speed bumps inbetween. Major boulevards that desperately need to handle massively variable traffic flows are given stupid expensive computerized traffic signals that rely on some car to sit on an induction sensor to trigger the damn thing and a supercomputer in the desert to run the whole works. It was better 30 years ago when a simple timer allowed the primary road driver to drive smoothly at the speed limit and hit every green light for miles, and secondary road users would have to wait a little while longer to make their left turns. Now every boulevard in every major city is a parking lot of wasteful stop-go surges, every 300hp engine idling away running the A/C in the already superheated city. It goes without saying that at 10pm those stupid timers will still make a vehicle wait for a minute when nobody is approaching from any other direction. Wasted time, wasted fuel, zero real safety improvement.

      Then there is the shortage of paint. There’s never a shortage of asphalt, the USA has already paved more acres of asphalt than it can maintain. States continue to repave highways in dust bowl towns that have tiny populations while their urban networks where all the jobs and money are — are totally gridlocked. The problem is, even in the city much asphalt is wasted where it does no good. Some 25mph neighborhood streets in the USA are wider than highways anywhere else in the world. If you want a 25 mph lane, make it narrow so people will naturally drive slower. Where asphalt should be is at choke points, i.e., intersections, where separate turn lanes or a proper traffic circle could do a lot of good. At a 4-way, often lanes are so poorly marked that drivers don’t know if there is a free right turn lane or not. So Mr. Ford Expedition who wants to turn left pulls up to a 4-way in the middle of what should be (and probably was) 2 lanes, blocking all people who could freely turn right if only the worn lines on the asphalt were repainted correctly. The nanny state solution is to replace the cheap stop signs with very expensive computerized signals. Bad move – that’s an expensive solution that does not scale. Given the choice between paving miles of 6 lane boulevard with a traffic lights every quarter mile versus a 4 lane boulevard with 3-lane traffic circles instead, you all intuitively know which will flow a greater capacity and conserve more fuel and cost less to build. It’s not rocket science. It’s the one that keeps traffic moving without bringing everyone to sudden stops every 1/4 mile. But since building and teaching traffic circles isn’t American culture, we daily get to witness the bad drivers training on display at every stop sign. That gives you the area of 2 more lanes with which to install trees and sidewalks and bike paths that are fully separated from cars so the cars don’t ever have to slow down for them. Alas, change is too hard for some to comprehend. Many people actually think more asphalt for cars without increased constant flow capacity at intersections is the answer, and sadly that’s what seems to win in many areas despite ample proof that it is the wrong direction for all road vehicles.

      Then there is the tolling, which has proven repeatedly not to improve safety or road quality but instead add a layer of bureaucracy and cost instead — all privatized revenue taken from a public good. Or the faux safety tolling: red light cameras and speed limit cameras. In the supposed interest of reducing T-bone collisions, red light cameras have dramatically increased the number of rear end collisions when overly cautious drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a fine when they could have cruised legally through the yellow buffer light. Speed limits, while a nice guide for many roads, are plainly useless on others. The correct speed to travel for best safety is the same speed everyone else is traveling. Now we have electronic variable speed limit signs that increase traffic congestion by advising everyone to slow down on an interstate which hasn’t been improved to handle urban rush hour.

      Also don’t forget the parking scams. A city will spend millions choking a boulevard with expensive on-street metered parking, which of course diverts much police effort into revenue collection instead of their true role to protect and serve the public. In most cities there are vacant lots ideal for parking garages which would get these cars off the street. It certainly doesn’t help that parallel parking is a lost art, but it is definitely the cause of many street backups and wasted human resources. To hear a some people complain, you’d think there’d be a constitutional amendment preventing parking price gouging, but apparently it’s an unchangeable document.

      But wait, there’s more: thanks to new consumer technology, some urban areas are choked with delivery vehicles — often single-occupant cars delivering dinner to people who are too lazy to even dine at a restaurant, let alone cook for themselves. These vehicles are famous for blocking traffic in order to load a passenger or drop off food or whatever when they’re not trolling around aimlessly looking for their next fare. Total waste of limited street space.

      Bad public tech choices in road infrastructure is almost enough to make you want to move to the middle of nowhere in Fantasy Land, USA, next to Goeb. Almost. In rural areas, bridges average a “D” letter rating according to experts. Well, I guess that will prompt the plebians to buy a bigger SuperAwesome Canyonero XLT with the big block and a suspension lift next time.

    2. Sorry TxUser, do not agree with the limited resources of the DOTs. Many times on my way around town I have seen various DOT projects going on with way too many personnel “working.” In one instance in which I did not believe what I saw the first time, I turned around a filmed the work being done. I counted 7 vehicles and 11 people in those 7 vehicles to do what: paint a new yellow line on the right side of the road. Really needed vehicles included the first one in line that was brushing the right side of the road clean, the second one actually painting, and finally the last vehicle with the warning lights and extended crash bumper. Each vehicle only needed 1 person.

      This is like so many things in the gubmint world. You have a budget and each year have to max out that budget, then complain that you don’t have enough so next year you scream for more. Rather than trying to be efficient and economical, too many governmental agencies don’t give a rip about wasting the public’s money. I wish government was held accountable for the waste just like a private business would (too wasteful and they go out of business.)

      This is another example of the DOT wasting money. The current DOT office and equipment yard is a little dated but functional. They want to move the office and build a brand new building and equipment yard about 7 miles away to the tune of several million dollars. The rationale is that the new location is more central to the county and would save money in gas. My thinking is they are not really interested in saving money because it would take over 100 years worth of traveling to save the several million dollars in gas money. In my travels here in the Southeast, oftentimes the nicest buildings I see on the highways are the DOT offices. Why? 2¢

      1. Excellent points. You are absolutely correct, the Big Gubmint DOTs are some of the most well financed state agencies and at the same time the most wasteful spenders. I’ve seen the same overblown workforce for decades wasting manpower, huge amounts of resources to complete simple tasks. Because of “prevailing wage” laws gubmint charges taxpayers 300% more than private contractors that are responsible for the quality of their work. DOTs as in this California case of shoddy work, poor maintenance and slow replacement is all too typical — the daily MO. Just try and sue DOTs for negligence and see how far it goes — nowhere. DOT reform should be highest priority state by state to keep costs down, work faster and be more efficient SAVING TAXPAYERS MONEY while making roads safer. The gold standard for DOT reform — the highest gasoline taxes in the U.S. going to roads is the state of Pennsylvania. For decades, year after year the state has the worst roads and most potholes in the nation. Parallel construction to school funding has proven throwing huge funding levels at government does not solve the problem…

        1. My suggestion, then, is that you move someplace that doesn’t have a government. You could try Somalia, although there are currently some places in Mexico and Central America that might be anarchic enough for you. No paved roads, no police, no socialized medicine, just gun lovers like you.

          If that isn’t the answer, what do YOU suggest?

          1. I suggest quite obvious to all, as a Big Gubmint defender you are too immature to discuss the excesses, corruption and wasteful spending with ZERO OVERSIGHT and public official accountability…

  4. “an individual worker can only be one place at a time. If there are eleven one-day jobs to do, one of them won’t get done until day eleven, no matter how urgent it is as an abstract proposition.”

    USER is an irrational DEFENDER of Big Gubmint. Eleven days and a dangerous well know threat to public safety is not taken care of and all we read is esoteric excuses?

    There is NO EXCUSE with all the money and resources they have at their disposal. A dangerous situation should rise to the top of priority and there should have been men on site the NEXT WORK DAY to take care of a public threat, period!

    If DOTs were a private business that allowed a dangerous threat to the public to linger that long there would have been media outcry and lawsuits to follow and you know it. If Big Gubmint were held to the same standards as private business, then and only then, will much needed and long overdue reforms begin of corrupt and wasteful DOTs…

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