Fatal Tesla Crash: Elon Musk Says Autopilot Not Engaged

The mystery surrounding the fatal Tesla car crash in Texas at the weekend that killed two passengers has deepened on Tuesday.

A 2019 Tesla Model S burst into flames, after it crashed into a tree north of Houston on Saturday night, with no one behind the wheel of the car.

Authorities said the two dead male passengers may have potentially been utilising Autopilot (Tesla’s semi-automated driving system) in an extremely unsafe manner.

Image credit: Tesla

No Autopilot

The police said the body of one passenger was located in the front passenger seat, while the other was located in the back seat of the Tesla.

Tesla boss Elon Musk however has cast doubt on that theory, when he said data recovered so far showed Autopilot was not enabled.

Musk was responding to a person’s tweet that questioned the official account, who said the police version did not make sense as Tesla safety measures in place with the autopilot Seat is weighted to make sure there is a driver, plus hands must be on steering wheel every 10 seconds or it disengages.

Elon Musk agreed in a tweet.

“Your research as a private individual is better than professionals @WSJ!” Musk tweeted. “Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD (full self driving).

“Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” Musk added.

Search warrants

In response, a senior Texas police officer told Reuters they will serve search warrants on Tesla on Tuesday to secure data from a fatal vehicle crash.

The Guardian newspaper meanwhile has reported that Federal safety regulators have sent a team to investigate the fatal crash.

Investigators are “100% sure” no one was driving the 2019 Tesla Model S on Saturday night, Constable Mark Herman of Harris county precinct four was reported by the Guardian as saying.

However, it is reported that investigators were still trying to determine whether the electric car was operating on the Autopilot driver-assist system or if the Full Self-Driving Capability system was in use.

“We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information,” the NHTSA was quoted as saying in a statement.

Investigators were also reportedly working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and getting search warrants seeking evidence in the crash.

The NHTSA has sent investigators to 27 Tesla crashes in the past few years.

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).

This driver got around Tesla’s safety system requiring the steering wheel to be toggled or adjusted every 20 seconds 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.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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