Houston, Texas, police say that no one was in the driver’s seat of a Tesla that crashed into a tree. Two men perished in the fiery crash. The 2019 Tesla Model S crashed after being unable to negotiate a curve in the road. It was traveling at a high rate of speed as it entered the cul-de-sac turn. There are suspicions that the Tesla Autopilot was involved.
It took over four hours for the fire crew on scene to put the blaze out because it kept reigniting from heat generated by the lithium-ion batteries. Firefighters are estimated to have used 32,000 gallons of water. The firefighters at one point contacted Tesla for help in putting out the fire.
Who was driving the Tesla before the crash?
According to KHOU-TV after the fire was finally put out two men were found in the wreckage. One was in the passenger seat and the other was behind him in the back seat. Relatives say the owner of the Tesla was the one in the back seat.
With Tesla rolling out its semi-automated driving system there have been warnings for Tesla drivers to be vigilant. Drivers are required to keep their hands on or near the steering wheel. The NHTSA is preparing to look at 27 previous crashes involving Teslas that crashed while in the semi-autonomous mode. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he has “high confidence the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year.”
Federal regulations governing how Autopilot is used remain loose
While the Tesla Autopilot is highly suspected as the cause giving the “no driver” circumstances authorities have not indicated how this could have happened. Federal regulations governing how drivers should operate the system remain loose. And the “Autopilot” term itself may be misleading customers who purchase the system.
Local television has already spoken with victims of the Tesla owner’s family. A relative of the passenger said that the Tesla owner “may have hopped in the back seat after backing the car out of the driveway. The accident occurred around 100 years from the owner’s driveway.
The crash in Texas is similar to one that recently happened in Florida. Two teenagers crashed into a police car that was trying to stop them from driving on the wrong side of the road. Once the sheriff pulled the Tesla over it was discovered there was no one in the driver’s seat. The teens admitted using the Autopilot feature at the time of the accident.
Tesla’s Autopilot is a very advanced system, but not fully autonomous
While the Tesla Autopilot system is very advanced, it is not fully autonomous. As of right now, you can’t purchase any car that is self-driving. While extensive testing is ongoing the self-driving feature is still years away if not decades away.
If you have Tesla’s autopilot feature it is great for cross-country jaunts. But it must have a driver that is behind the steering wheel and is paying attention at all times. It is able to steer the car, accelerate, and brake, but only in a small window of situations. Outside of that window not all of the actions necessary to travel on a road or highway will function simultaneously.