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The fatal Tesla Model X accident occurred near Mountain View, CA, last month.

  • Disparities have emerged in a dispute between Tesla and the NTSB over the investigation of a fatal Autopilot crash in March.
  • It's unclear whether Tesla ended its involvement with the investigation or was removed.
  • The NTSB has objected to Tesla revealing information about the crash, a violation of its "party agreement" with the agency.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk and NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt had previously spoken about Tesla's obligation to abide by the agreement rules.

A dispute has developed this week between Tesla and the Nation Transportation Safety Board over an investigation into a fatal crash involving the carmaker's Autopilot technology.

The accident occurred near Mountain View, CA, last month and led to the death of Walter Huang, whose Tesla Model X crashed into a freeway barrier.

The NTSB's chairman, Robert Sumwalt, sent a letter dated April 12 to Tesla CEO Elon Musk "memorializing a conversation" between Musk, NTSB managing director Dennis Jones, and Sumwalt in which the agency informed Tesla that it was revoking Tesla's party status in the investigation of the March 26 crash.

"It is unfortunate that Tesla, by its actions, did not abide by the party agreement," Sumwalt said in an NTSB news release.

"We decided to revoke Tesla’s party status and informed Mr. Musk in a phone call last evening and via letter today. 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."

On Wednesday evening, Tesla released a statement that it "withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively, adding that "[w]e believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable. Even though we won't be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB."

Sumwalt's letter confirmed that last week, he and Musk had discussed Tesla's party status and the release of investigation information in a blog post. The NTSB had rebuked Tesla for its actions, and according to Sumwalt, Musk had implicitly agreed that Tesla would adhere to investigation rules going forward.

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request to clarify whether it had withdrawn as a party to the investigation or had its status revoked first.

The carmaker's point that abiding by the NTSB party agreement rules compromises public safety was also addressed by the agency.

"There is nothing in the party agreement that prevents a company from enacting swift and effective measures to counter a threat to public safety," Sumwalt said the release. He added that the NTSB continues to encourage Tesla to take action regarding a concluded investigation of a fatal Autopilot-related crash in Florida in 2016.

The NTSB said that its investigation can take 12-24 months to complete and that "[w]hile rare, the NTSB has revoked party status in other investigations."

"In 2009, the NTSB revoked the party status of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in the investigation of a midair collision over the Hudson River," the agency said. "In 2014, the party status of both the Independent Pilots Association and UPS were revoked during the investigation of the crash of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, Alabama."

Read more about the fatal Tesla Model X crash: