Tesla chief Elon Musk has said that the automaker’s early investigations suggest the Model S in the fatal accident in Texas at the weekend didn’t have Autopilot enabled.
Saturday’s crash in Spring, just north of Houston, killed two men aged 59 and 69 when the vehicle hit a tree and burst into flames. Police at the scene said one person was found in the front passenger seat while the other was in a rear seat, indicating that the car may have been in Autopilot or Full Self-Driving (FSD) mode when the accident occurred. The other possibility is that the driver was thrown from the driver’s seat, or moved out of it, around the time of the impact.
In a tweet on Monday, April 19, Musk said that the vehicle data logs “recovered so far” show that Autopilot was not enabled at the time of the crash, and that the car’s owner had not purchased FSD.
Musk continued, saying that the street where the crash occurred did not have any lane lines, which the CEO said standard Autopilot requires in order to activate. His comments add more mystery to the events surrounding the crash as investigators try to determine the cause.
Your research as a private individual is better than professionals @WSJ!
Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD.
Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 19, 2021
The California-based company has faced criticism for the way it labels its vehicles’ self-driving systems, which some have suggested could mislead drivers into thinking their Tesla is fully autonomous.
Autopilot and FSD are, in fact, driver-assist features, and drivers are supposed to stay in their seat, keep their hands on the wheel, and be ready to take over at a moment’s notice if necessary.
On its website, Tesla cautions its customers, saying: “Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” and also: “While using Autopilot, it is your responsibility to stay alert, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, and maintain control of your car.”
Built-in safety mechanisms mean that a Tesla vehicle will issue alerts and eventually slow to a stop if it detects that there are no hands on the wheel, but some drivers are known to use various techniques to override the system.
Musk’s tweet appears to be a response to what he sees as unfair reporting that paints Tesla in a bad light, which in turn invites unnecessary scrutiny of the company’s autonomous technology.
One of his main concerns is the possibility of regulatory action that could impose limits on how Tesla’s autonomous features can be used by drivers. Indeed, the Tesla CEO will no doubt be dismayed to hear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already launched an investigation into the Texas crash — the latest of around nine conducted so far by the NHTSA into previous Tesla accidents — while the National Transportation Safety Board is working with local police to try to establish exactly what led up to Saturday’s fatal crash, and what caused it.