Exclusive Dutch forensic lab claims to have decoded Tesla driving data

LONDON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – The Dutch government’s forensic laboratory said on Thursday it had decrypted the closely guarded driving data storage system of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), revealing a mine information that could be used to investigate serious accidents.

Tesla cars were already known to store crash data, but the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) said it uncovered far more data than investigators previously knew.

The NFI said the decrypted data showed Tesla vehicles stored information about the operation of its driver assistance system, known as Autopilot. Vehicles also record speed, accelerator pedal position, steering wheel angle and brake usage, and depending on vehicle usage, this data may be stored for over a year.

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“These data contain a wealth of information for forensic investigators and traffic accident analysts and can help in a criminal investigation after a fatal traffic accident or accident with injury,” said Francis Hoogendijk, investigator digital to the NFI, in a press release.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Dutch lab said that instead of researching Tesla’s data, it had “reverse-engineered” data logs – a process in which software is deconstructed to extract information – present in Tesla vehicles “in order to investigate them objectively”.


The NFI investigated a collision involving a Tesla driver using Autopilot and a car in front of him that suddenly braked hard.

The investigation showed that the driver of the Tesla reacted within the expected response time to a warning to regain control of the car, but the collision occurred because the Tesla was following the other vehicle too closely in heavy traffic.

“That makes it interesting, because who is responsible for the next distance: the car or the driver?” said NFI investigator Aart Spek.

The NFI said Tesla encrypts its encoded driving data to protect its technology from other manufacturers and protect driver privacy. Car owners can request their data, including camera footage, in the event of an accident.

Earlier this year, Tesla said it had set up a site in China to store car data locally, as automakers came under increasing scrutiny over how they handle information collected by vehicle cameras and sensors. Read more


The NFI found that Tesla complied with data requests from Dutch authorities, but omitted many data that could have been useful.

“Tesla, however, only provides a specific subset of signals, only those requested, for a specific time period, whereas the log files contain all recorded signals,” the NFI report states.

By cracking Tesla’s code, the NFI now knows more about what kind of data the automaker is storing and for how long, allowing for more detailed data requests, Hoogendijk said.

“You can’t claim what you don’t know, so it’s helpful that we now know what’s stored,” he said.

Hoogendijk added that this also applies to other automakers, as investigators simply don’t know how much and what kind of data manufacturers store and for how long.

Tesla has remote access to data, the lab said, which is periodically downloaded from cars and used by the company to improve products or fix malfunctions.

The NFI said it obtained data from Tesla Models S, Y, X and the consumer Model 3 and shared the results at a conference of the European Association for Accident Research so that other analysts from accidents can use them.

In August, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a formal safety investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system in 765,000 U.S. vehicles after a series of crashes involving Tesla models and passenger vehicles. ’emergency.

To date, NHTSA has identified 12 crashes involving Tesla vehicles using advanced driver assistance systems and emergency vehicles. NHTSA said most of the incidents took place after dark.

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Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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