Two People Die As Tesla With No Driver Crashes

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Tesla's pricier Model S. Image credit: Tesla

Autopillot abuse? Tesla car crash in Texas kills two passengers, with police reporting that no one was actually in the driver’s seat

A 2019 Tesla Model S has crashed in Texas and burst into flames, after it crashed into a tree north of Houston on Saturday night.

What makes this crash noteworthy is the the two male passengers in the Tesla who were killed, may have potentially been utilising Autopilot (Tesla’s semi-automated driving system) in an extremely unsafe manner.

“There was no one in the driver’s seat,” Sgt Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 reportedly said of the crash on Saturday night.

Tesla's Model S. Image credit: Tesla
Tesla’s Model S. Image credit: Tesla

No driver

According to the Guardian newspaper, the 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at high speed when it failed to negotiate a bend in the road and then crashed to a tree, before bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV was quoted as saying.

After the fire was extinguished, rescue personnel reportedly located two passengers – one passenger was located in the front passenger seat while the other was located in the back seat of the Tesla, the report said, citing Harris County Precinct 4 police officer Mark Herman.

Are we ready for ready for driverless transport?

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Guardian.

Other accidents

It should be noted that US authorities have investigated, or are still investigating, multiple fatal accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

A US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report concluded for example that a fatal Tesla crash in March 2019 happened when the car’s Autopilot had been engaged for 10 seconds before the crash.

The roof of the Tesla Model X was sheared off and its 50-year-old driver was killed when the vehicle drove under the trailer of a semi truck that was crossing its path in March 2019.

That March incident had similarities to a May 2016 crash in which a Model S also drove under the trailer of a semi truck crossing its path. That crash found that autopilot had failed to detect the white trailer against a bright sky.

But it concluded that the driver was not paying attention to the road and exonerated Tesla.

There are a number of fatalities worldwide involving Tesla vehicles on autopilot.

The NHTSA is already investigating a crash in early December 2019 when a Tesla Model 3 on autopilot crashed into the rear of a police car.

copyright Connecticut State Police

That accident took place in Connecticut, when a Model 3 in its autonomous driving mode failed to avoid crashing into a stationary police car which had its blue flashing lights on, as it attended to a broken down car in the “left centre lane”.

The driver admitted to State police that he had placed his Tesla Model 3 on autopilot so he could check on his dog in the back seat.

The driver of the Tesla was charged with Reckless Driving and Reckless Endangerment.

Not autonomous

Tesla recommends users be prepared to take over from autopilot at all times, and that drivers do not remove their hands from the steering wheel whilst autopilot is engaged.

Tesla insists its vehicles are not fully autonomous, but this has not stopped people from engaging in extremely dangerous and unsafe behaviour with the system.

In September 2020, a Tesla driver in Canada was charged when police found the Canadian driver and his passenger sleeping in fully reclined seats, whilst the Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

There was some suggestion that the driver could not have been sleeping, as the driver is required to toggle the wheel or make other adjustments every 20 seconds.

But it was reported that the driver got around this by attaching a weight to the steering wheel to trick the car’s systems.

Future level 5

In July 2020 CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

The Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, previously said that he expects huge profits from its full self-driving software, saying he is “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year”.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

However it will have to overcome strict regulatory and safety testing before this can be achieved.

In August 2020, it was revealed the British government was considering proposals that could allow the use of self-driving cars in the slow lane of UK motorways by 2021.

The possibility that hands-free driving could be allowed on British motorways by Spring 2021 came after the Department for Transport (DfT) issued a call for evidence into automated lane keeping systems (ALKS).

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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