Two men died in a fiery Tesla crash this weekend in Texas, one where police claim one occupant was sitting in the passenger seat and another was in the back. The collision happened in the Carlton Woods subdivision in the affluent Houston-area suburb of The Woodlands, and many observers believe misuse of the car's Autopilot semi-autonomous driver aid system may be to blame.
"No one was driving," Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told KPRC2 Houston. Herman said the investigation showed that there were only two occupants in the car, and neither was found in the driver's seat. It's unknown how fast the 2019 Tesla Model S was driving when it crashed into a tree, but deputies claim it was traveling "at a high speed when it failed to negotiate a cul-de-sac turn."
Authorities have yet to say that Autopilot is to blame for the crash—or at least the reason why no one was behind the wheel—but it's very possible that this is the case. A relative of the deceased told the news station that it's possible that the owner may have shown off the system while going out for a quick joyride with a friend.
Tesla's Autopilot—one of the more advanced semi-autonomous driving aids currently on the market—has come under increased scrutiny in recent years even as more automakers have rolled out similar competing systems. In March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed it was investigating 23 crashes potentially related to Autopilot, including one in Michigan where a Model Y rear-ended a police car. While drivers are required to keep their hands on or near the steering wheel and their eyes on the road, Autopilot is often misused; federal regulations around such systems are loose, and additional critics have complained the "Autopilot" name is misleading and doesn't match the car's actual capabilities.
A KPRC2 reporter spoke to the brother-in-law of one of the alleged passengers, who claimed that the car was being taken out for a spin by the two men, further confirming that there were only two people inside the car. The man also claimed that the owner allegedly "may have hopped in the back seat after backing the car out of the driveway." The Model S then crashed only a hundred or so yards down the road.
The report also claims that the victims' relatives watched the car burn for four hours while firefighters attempted to extinguish the fire, and that authorities even had to call Tesla at some point to get instructions on how to deal with a battery fire. Firefighters had to use 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze.
The owner was ultimately found sitting upright in the back seat, and now both victims await full autopsies.
This unfortunate crash comes on the heels of another similar case that took place in Florida last month, when two teens aged 14 and 15 rented a Tesla Model 3 on the car-sharing app Turo, only to crash into a police car after being pulled over for traveling on the wrong side of the road. When the sheriff approached the Tesla, no one was found in the driver's seat. The teens claimed to have been using Autopilot for the majority of their runaway journey from home.
Remember: You can't buy a self-driving car right now.
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