Tesla alleged “driverless” crash in Texas: What is known so far

Credit: Matt Dougherty/Twitter

This weekend, a tragic crash involving a 2019 Tesla Model S ended up claiming the lives of two individuals, a 59-year-old and a 69-year-old, both of whom are yet to be identified. Considering the nature of the case and partly due to the involvement of a Tesla, the incident has been covered by both local and national media outlets. This became quite notable in social media platforms, where the crash has been linked to Autopilot. 

This guide presents what is currently known about the tragic incident, as well as some commentary and videos from EV owners who have attempted to replicate (at least to a degree) the alleged events that led up to the tragic Model S crash. 

What happened?

On Saturday night, a 2019 Model S crashed into a tree at about 11:25 p.m. in the Carlton Woods Subdivision on Hammock Dunes Place in Houston, Texas. According to authorities, the Model S crashed into a tree after failing to navigate a turn at high speed near 18 Hammock Dunes Place. The collision resulted in a fire that took the local fire department about four hours and over 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish. Investigators have found two victims from the incident, one sitting on the passenger seat and another in the back seat. 

What did witnesses say?

KPRC 2 reporter Deven Clarke was able to speak to one of the victims’ brother-in-law, who stated that the Tesla owner and a friend simply wanted to take the car out for a spin. The brother-in-law remarked that there were just two people in the vehicle. He also added that the Tesla owner backed out of the driveway and then may have hopped in the back seat before crashing a few hundred yards down the road. The owner was reportedly the person found in the back seat of the car. 

What has the police said?

In a statement to KHOU-11, Harris County Pct. 4 Constable Mark Herman remarked that deputies who recovered the Tesla are certain that the vehicle had no driver when it collided with the tree. He also emphasized that some of the authorities who responded to the incident were reconstructionists, and that they were very confident that there was no one driving the vehicle when it crashed. 

“They are 100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact. They are positive. And again, the height from the back seat to the front seat, that would be almost impossible, but again our investigators are trained. They handle collisions. Several of our folks are reconstructionists, but they feel very confident just with the positioning of the bodies after the impact that there was no one driving that vehicle,” Herman said. 

Was Autopilot involved?

Despite the inflammatory social media posts from some media outlets, it has not been determined yet if Autopilot had been active in the Model S when it collided with the tree. It should be noted that the roads in the Carlton Woods Subdivision on Hammock Dunes Place do not seem to have visible lane lines, which is a requirement for Autopilot’s activation. Regular cruise control could be activated in such areas as per videos from Tesla owners, but Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features are generally inaccessible in a residential area, at least in their current state. 

Is the NTSB investigating the incident?

In a statement to Bloomberg, National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Chris O’Neil confirmed that the NTSB does not plan to open a new probe about the tragic incident. 

What happens when Autopilot is engaged and a driver unbuckles the seatbelt?

One scenario that has been suggested is that the driver might have activated Autopilot and jumped into the back seat. This would have been a tricky maneuver as the driver would have had to unbuckle himself, which results in Teslas engaging their alerts and eventually coming to a stop. Such a scenario was demonstrated by FSD Beta user @brandonee916

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Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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