Two men died in a Tesla crash in Spring, Texas and according to police it appears no one was behind the wheel. The 2019 Model S Tesla crashed into a tree and burst into flames, according to the reports. One person was found in the front passenger seat, and another in the rear passenger seat. Local police told KPRC 2 they believe nobody was behind the wheel and their investigation is not complete.
Firefighters reportedly used 32,000 gallons of water and spent hours suppressing the resulting fire.
Police reported that minutes before the crash the men’s wives heard them say they wanted to go for a drive and were talking about the vehicle’s Autopilot feature. The men were 59 and 69 years old. Tesla sells automated driving systems under the brand name Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving (FSD) and has released a “beta” version of Full Self Driving (FSD beta) software to some customers who spent the $10,000 to have the Full Self Driving option. Tesla CEO Elon Musk as recently as February 11, 2021 told Joe Rogan on his podcast: “I think Autopilot’s getting good enough that you won’t need to drive most of the time unless you really want to.” Tesla Autopilot and FSD are not capable of controlling the electric vehicles in all normal driving circumstances. Musk recently posted to his more than 50 million followers – “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle.”
Tesla lawyers sent a letter to the California DMV in late 2020 stating that “neither Autopilot nor FSD Capability is an autonomous system.” Tesla owners’ manuals even caution drivers “The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.” Tesla fans and supporters post videos showing people driving hands free for prolonged periods, asleep at the wheel or with nobody in the driver’s seat. The question many experts have is how many people actually fully read and understand their owner’s manual?
The crash comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is evaluating comments from the public that it sought in advance of proposed rulemaking. The federal agency has yet to regulate automated driving systems and has left that to individual states. NHTSA released a statement Monday morning saying it will investigate the incident. There have been several crashes recently involving Tesla vehicles, prompting federal probes to determine whether Autopilot or FSD systems was a factor in the collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last month that it had opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles, 23 of which remain active.
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