A Tesla Model S crashed in Texas late Saturday just around 11:25 P. M. erupting into flames and killing the two passengers. The fatal crash left the Model S burning for four hours before the fire was put out.
The cause of the accident was reportedly the failure of the auto-pilot informed the local authorities. However, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk deflected blame for the deadly crash on Monday afternoon by tweeting that the initial data accessed by the company indicates the vehicle didn’t have its Autopilot driver-assistance enabled. This is after the authorities had claimed that the accident was caused by the autopilot system of the car because none of the bodies were recovered from the driver’s seat.
In his tweet, Musk rejected the idea that the vehicle’s semi-automated driving software was to blame: “Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD,” in a reference to Full Self-Driving, Tesla’s separate beta semi-automated driver assistance system that still requires driver supervision. Musk added that “standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” referring to road markers that need to be captured by a vehicle’s cameras to enable autopilot.
Your research as a private individual is better than professionals @WSJ!
Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD.
Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 19, 2021
“Texas police will serve search warrants on Tesla Inc. on Tuesday to secure data from a fatal vehicle crash”, a senior officer told Reuters on Monday, after Musk’s claims. Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4, said “Evidence including witness statements clearly indicated there was nobody in the driver’s seat of the crashed Model S when it crashed into a tree, killing two people, on Saturday night.”
Herman said Musk’s tweet claiming the Autopilot system was uninvolved in this incident, was the first officials had heard from the company. “If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that,” Herman told Reuters. “We will eagerly wait for that data.” As per records, this is the 28th Telsa accident to be investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates vehicle safety in the US.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), is already investigating into a fatal crash in 2018 and removed Tesla as a party after the company made details of the probe public without authorization.
“In Saturday’s accident, the 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at high speed near Houston when it lost track of the lane and went off the road, crashing into a tree and bursting into flames,” Herman informed. “Two male bodies were found in the car, one in the front passenger seat and the second in the backseat. We have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself,” Herman further added.
Tesla’s Autopilot is a semi-autonomous driver assistance system that handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel at times, but Tesla says its features “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
Tesla has access to operational and diagnostic data delivered to its servers at regular intervals from the car, which has been impounded by police. It is unclear whether investigators will be able to retrieve data directly from the event data recorder in the severely burned vehicle.
It is to be noted though that just hours before the crash, Musk had tweeted: “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle.”
NHTSA told Reuters last month it had opened 27 special investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles, 23 of which remain active, in crashes believed to have been tied to Autopilot use. Tesla’s Autopilot system, which was operating in at least three Tesla vehicles involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016, has come under increasing scrutiny.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Its shares closed down 3.4% Monday before picking up 1.5% in after-hours trading following Musk’s tweet.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that “using Tesla’s driverless system — or any other — shouldn’t be a death risk. Advancements in driving technology must first & foremost be safe.” The NTSB, which makes safety recommendations but cannot compel recalls, said its investigation into the Texas crash would focus “on the vehicle’s operation and the post-crash fire.”
Fire officials said it took four hours to completely extinguish the fire because of the car’s lithium-ion battery.