No One Was Behind The Wheel in Fiery Tesla Crash Killing Two Men, Investigators Say
Spring, TX – Authorities say no one was behind the wheel of a 2019 Tesla sedan when it crashed and ignited, killing two men over the weekend in a suburb of Houston.
The deadly incident occurred on Saturday evening in the Carlton Woods subdivision in the city of Spring.
According to the New York Times, witnesses told police that in the moments leading up to the accident the owner of the Tesla Model S was overheard discussing the vehicle’s automated driving technology with his friend.
A family member of one of the victims told local outlet KPRC 2 the owner backed the car down the driveway, exited, and then sat in the rear passenger seat, while his friend was seated in the front passenger seat.
The Tesla then reportedly sped off.
Investigators said the vehicle had only traveled a few hundred yards when it entered a cul-de-sac at too high rate of speed to negotiate a turn.
The Tesla left the roadway and slammed into a tree before bursting into flames.
Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman indicated emergency responders found one male victim in the passenger seat and the other upright in the rear passenger seat.
“They feel very confident just with the positioning of the bodies after the impact that there was no one driving that vehicle,” Herman told KHOU-TV.
Investigators have yet to reveal if one of the Tesla’s automated driving systems — branded as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) — was engaged at the time of the crash.
Authorities have not yet released their identities, but multiple outlets are reporting their ages were 59 and 69 years old.
KPRC 2 reported the Tesla’s electric batteries continued to reignite, wreaking havoc on emergency response efforts.
Firefighters reportedly battled the flames for more than four hours and deployed 32,000 gallons of water.
According to multiple reports, authorities even phoned Tesla for instructions on how best to douse the flames before eventually giving up and allowing the fire to burn out.
Tesla’s Safety Report Claims Battery Fires “Extremely Unlikely”
Ironically, on the same day as the crash, Tesla released its safety report for the first three months of 2021.
In it, Tesla claims it is “extremely unlikely” that its battery packs will catch fire in an accident.
“Because of their strength, Tesla’s battery packs rarely incur serious damage in accidents,” the report states. “And, in the extremely unlikely event that a fire occurs, the state-of-the-art design of our battery packs ensures that its safety system works as intended and isolates a fire to select areas within the battery while simultaneously venting heat away from the passenger cabin and the vehicle.”
This latest deadly crash is also raising questions about the safety of its automated driving systems, which Tesla says should not be engaged without a driver behind the wheel and ready to take over if need be.
“We registered one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged,” the safety report states. “For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 978,000 miles driven.”
It’s important to note the accident data collected by Tesla has not been verified by a third party independent analyst.
Tesla SEMI Will Deploy Similar Automated Driving System
Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk discussed the company’s long-awaited electric big rig dubbed “Tesla Semi.”
During an earnings call, Musk said his prized Semi will deploy the same autonomous hardware as the company’s passenger cars, but with a few modifications needed to the software parameters.
“We just need to inform the vehicle, inform the Full Self-Driving brain, that it is now in a semi truck,” he explained. “You have different control functions because there are turns that you could do in a regular car that you cannot do in a Semi. Like, you don’t want to try to parallel park this thing on the street in a city. It needs to know its limitations being a giant truck.”
Musk recently signaled the Semi likely won’t hit the market until some time in 2022 explaining “we simply don’t have enough cells for it.”
The company intends to address the battery problem later this year when it’s expected to go into production on its new 4680 battery pack.
Musk indicated the Semi’s battery pack will require “five times the number of cells that a car would use.”