Was Tesla Model S in Texas Crash on 'Autopilot'? Musk Denies

·3 min read
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images
  • In a crash and subsequent fire of a Tesla Model S near Houston, Texas, over the weekend, police say they are certain there was no one sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle, implying it was using Autopilot at the time.

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk, however, said on Twitter that the car did not have the optional Full Self-Driving feature and that Autopilot could not have been engaged because the road did not have marked lane lines.

  • Reuters reports that Harris County, Texas, police will subpoena Tesla for the car's data to find out for certain.

UPDATE 5/10/21: A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Autopilot could not have been in operation on the Tesla Model S that crashed in Texas on April 17. The government group said that the Autopilot technology onboard needed both Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer to be engaged in order to operate, and it was not possible to engage Autosteer in NTSB's tests on the road where the crash occurred. The report also said that video footage from security cameras shows the owner of the Model S was in the driver's seat, with the passenger in the front passenger seat, when they first started driving the car.

A crash and subsequent vehicle fire in Texas over the weekend has made major headlines for the fact that the 2019 Tesla Model S crashed at high speed with, police say, the two occupants sitting in the front and rear passenger seats with nobody at the wheel. Now police said they will subpoena the EV maker to get the car's data and find out if its Autopilot feature was engaged.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk insisted via Twitter that the car could not have been on Autopilot, saying it only can be engaged on a road with lane markings:

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An important note about Autopilot is that it is designed not to stay engaged without regular steering-wheel input, so the occupants of this Model S could not have climbed into the passenger seat or back seat for any significant period of time and continued using Autopilot even if it were engaged—unless they were purposely trying to fool the system by taping a weight to the steering wheel.

Reuters reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will both investigate this accident.

The crash occurred on Saturday when the vehicle, traveling at what police described as "a high speed" in the Houston area, missed a curve and crashed into a tree, then catching on fire. The bodies of the two occupants were in the vehicle's two passenger seats, and the car's owner was the person found in the back seat, according to Reuters.

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