April 19 (UPI) — Two passengers died when a Tesla moving at a high speed in Texas with no one in the driver’s seat collided into a tree and caught fire, authorities said Monday.
The crash of the Tesla Model S Saturday night in a Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, killed a person in the front passenger seat and another person in the rear seat of the car, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told CNN.
“I can tell you our investigators are certain no one was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash,” Herman added in the CNN report.
Authorities have not yet released names of the 69-year-old and 59-year-old killed in the crash.
The 2019 Tesla Model S was driving at a high speed when it failed to navigate a curve and ran off the road, hit a tree and burst into flames near the Woodlands, about 30 miles north of Houston, Herman said.
Firefighters spent approximately four hours putting the fire out with more than 30,000 gallons of water, according to Herman, as the battery kept reigniting the fire.
Based on the model year, the Tesla Model S may have had an “Autopilot” feature to assist the driver with keeping the car inside the lane and slowing or stopping the car to avoid obstacles, but Tesla’s website cautions that it still requires “active driver supervision,” and does not “make the vehicle autonomous.”
It may have also had a more advanced feature called Full Self-Driving Capability, which a small group of members in the public are testing, CNN reported, but it’s not known whether it had such capability.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has deployed a special crash investigation team to investigate Saturday’s crash, according to CNN.
In 2016, Consumer Reports said following a series of crashes, including one fatal crash of the Model S in Williston, Fla., Tesla should “disable automatic steering in its cars until it updates the program to verify that the driver’s hands are on the wheel.” In a February 2020 report on a 2018 fatal crash in Mountainview, Calif., involving the use of Tesla Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board found driver’s overreliance on the “Autopilot,” and driver’s distraction caused the crash.
Before Saturday’s crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted out a safety report showing one accident per every 4.19 million miles driven with Autopilot deployed in the first quarter of the year, compared with general NHTSA data showing one automobile crash for every 484,000 miles.
The miles-driven comparison wasn’t necessarily valid since drivers using Autopilot may be more likely to activate it on limited access highways which have reduced chances of a crash, CNN reported.