Two men killed in Tesla crash where ‘no one was driving’

19 Apr 2021

Image: © jon11/Stock.adobe.com

It is not clear whether the Tesla car was on the Autopilot feature, but the two men were in the passenger seats before it crashed and ignited.

Two men died after the Tesla car they were travelling in, believed to be operating without someone in the driver’s seat, crashed in Texas.

The Tesla Model S car was travelling at high speed near Houston on Saturday night (17 April) when it crashed into a tree and caught fire, according to local news reports.

A police officer told reporters that “no one was driving” as there is evidence that was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash. The men were in the front passenger seat and back passenger seat.

It is unclear whether Tesla’s Autopilot feature was in use at the time. Autopilot is a semi-automated driver assistance feature, which Tesla has said is not a fully autonomous system and requires active driver supervision. Its capabilities and usage have been the subject of much criticism.

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Last month a Tesla car in Autopilot crashed into a police car in Michigan and last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into a Tesla crash in Los Angeles where two people died and the car was believed to have been on the Autopilot function. The agency has about 23 active investigations into Tesla crashes.

In 2020, a court in Germany found that the marketing material for Autopilot was misleading and suggested that its cars could drive autonomously when the car still requires a driver to be at the wheel for safety purposes.

In 2018, a British man was banned from driving after travelling in his Tesla with no one in the driver seat.

The crash in Houston presented another issue for first responders, with the fire taking four hours and 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish. Authorities said that the electric batteries kept reigniting and that they had to contact Tesla for help on how to put out the fire. Tesla publishes a guide for first responders on how to handle emergency situations involving its vehicles.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

editorial@siliconrepublic.com