Two die in Tesla ‘autopilot’ crash

Police report suggests neither passenger was in the driver's seat when the car hit a tree
Image: Tesla

19 April 2021

Two men have died in a Tesla car that crashed in Texas on Saturday, with law enforcement believing the vehicle was in autopilot mode.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at speed when it careered off the road and crashed into a tree before bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV reported.

According to a Harris County Precinct report, after the fire was extinguished, two occupants were located in the car, one in the front passenger seat and another in the back of the vehicle, leading to the conclusion that autopilot had been engaged.




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

The fatalities are potentially the first to be due to driverless car technology since 2018, when Elaine Herzberg was hit and killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Tampa, Arizona.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company is preparing to release an update to its “full self-driving” software but this latest incident will add to further scrutiny upon the firm. The US auto safety agency is currently investigating around 27 Tesla vehicle crashes – three of which have occurred in recent months.

The crash will also reignite a debate around the safety of self-driving car technology. With neither of the men believes to be in the driver’s seat, however, there is a likelihood they will be seen as partly responsible for the crash as they were not in a position to take control of the car.

Tesla’s autopilot is a hands-on driver assistant system that is intended to be used only with a “fully attentive driver”, the company states on its website: “It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous”.

Similarly, while the Uber vehicle that hit Herzberg was said to have software issues, the person in the vehicle was also reportedly using a mobile phone at the time it crashed.

© Dennis Publishing

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