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Tesla Crash in Texas Leaves 2 Dead, Investigators Determine That No One Was in the Driver's Seat

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【Summary】​Two people died in Texas on Sunday after a Tesla Model S left the roadway and slammed into a tree at high speed. The crash was highly unusual, as investigators determined that neither of the two victims was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

FutureCar Staff    Apr 19, 2021 9:45 AM PT
Tesla Crash in Texas Leaves 2 Dead, Investigators Determine That No One Was in the Driver's Seat

Two people died in Texas on Sunday after a Tesla Model S left the roadway and slammed into a tree at high speed. The crash was highly unusual, as investigators determined that neither of the two victims was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

The focus right now is whether or not Tesla's Autopilot was active at the time of the crash, since the driver seat was not occupied.

Constable Mark Herman said the 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling on a roadway near Woodlands, Texas. Deputies said that the Model S sedan was traveling at a high rate of speed when the vehicle came to a slight curve, left the roadway about 100 feet and crashed into a tree. Upon impact the vehicle burst into flames.

One person was in the front passenger seat and the other in the rear seat, Constable Herman said.

"They are 100 percent certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact. They are positive," said Herman. "And again, the height from the back seat to the front seat, that would be almost impossible, but again our investigators are trained. They handle collisions. Several of our folks are reconstructionists, but they feel very confident just with the positioning of the bodies after the impact that there was no one driving that vehicle."

Herman said that it took firefighters nearly four hours and more than 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire.

"Normally when the fire department arrives, they have the vehicle fire in control in minutes, but this went on close to four hours," said Herman.

At one point, crews had to call Tesla for help on putting the fire out, Herman said.

According to the New York Times, Herman said that minutes before the crash, the men's wives watched them leave in the vehicle after they said they wanted to go for a drive and were talking about Tesla's Autopilot automated driving feature.

The crash came a day after Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk shared the company's safety record for the first quarter of 2021 in a tweet on April 17. Musk is a defender of Tesla's Autopilot automated driving feature saying that the feature reduces the chances of an accident. 

According to Tesla's safety report, drivers are ten times less likely to get into an accident when the company's Autopilot feature is turned on than in an average vehicle.

The report stated that Tesla registered one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For comparison, The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency's (NHTSA) most recent data shows that in the U.S. there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles.

The NHTSA is currently investigating 23 crashes involving Tesla vehicles with the Autopilot feature active. The latest was last month when a Tesla Model Y rear-ended a police car that had stopped on a highway near Lansing, Mich. The driver who was not seriously injured, was using Autopilot, police said.

NHTSA is also looking into a Feb. 27 crash near Houston where another Tesla ran into a stopped police vehicle on a highway. However its still not clear if the driver has Autopilot activated. Police said that the Tesla did not appear to slow before the impact.

The latest accidents have once again put the spotlight on the safety of Tesla's Autopilot. But the fact that no one was behind the wheel at the time of the crash makes this particular incident highly unusual.

As more of the world's automakers roll out advanced driver assist features including hands-free highway driving, camera-based driver monitoring systems are being added to vehicles that makes sure the driver is paying attention when such systems are activated.

Tesla continuously collects data from its fleet, especially when Autopilot is active, so the company will likely conduct its own internal investigation. The investigation in Texas is still ongoing.

Tesla's latest autonomous driving feature is called "Full-Self Driving" and costs $10,000 extra. The upgraded features include automatic lane changes and self parking. It also works on secondary roads and in more complex environments.


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