Tesla CEO denies autopilot was engaged in deadly Texas crash

20th April 2021 Christopher Carey

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied claims the company’s semi-automated driving software was to blame for Saturday’s deadly crash that killed two passengers in Texas.

“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD,” Musk tweeted on Monday, in a reference to Full Self-Driving, Tesla’s separate beta semi-automated driver assistance system that still requires driver supervision.

He added that “standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” referring to road markers that need to be captured by a vehicle’s cameras to enable autopilot.

Police have said they will serve search warrants on the firm to determine if the car’s autopilot system was engaged, a senior officer told Reuters on Monday, after saying they are “99.9 percent” sure no one was driving the vehicle at the time of impact.

“If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that,” the officer said. “We will eagerly wait for that data.”

‘No one driving’

The incident occurred on Saturday night in a north Houston suburb, when the car crashed into a tree on a high-speed curve.

One of the deceased was in the passenger seat and another in the back seat, according to Harris county authorities, with the impact so severe it took firefighters four hours to put out the resulting blaze.

Police have said evidence, including witness statements, clearly indicated nobody was in the driver’s seat of the Model S when it crashed.

Investigation underway

Investigators are now trying to determine if the car’s airbags were deployed on impact and, crucially, if the vehicle had activated its autopilot function.

The accident comes amid growing scrutiny over Tesla’s semi-automated driving system following a number of recent incidents.

In March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it had opened 27 investigations (now 28) into crashes of Tesla vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has criticised Tesla Inc.’s lack of system safeguards in a fatal 2018 autopilot crash in California, and in February 2020 labelled US regulators’ approach in overseeing its driver assistance systems as “misguided”.

NTSB board members questioned the design of Tesla’s semi-automated driving assistance system and condemned the NHTSA for having a “hands-off approach” to regulating the increasingly popular systems.

The firm states the car’s human driver is meant to be fully alert and in control at all times, and has included systems in its cars which are supposed to ensure they keep their hands on the wheel.

But numerous videos have appeared on social media of drivers asleep at the wheel or even changing seats during their journey.

In January Musk said he expects huge profits from the company’s full self-driving software, and is “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year”. Tesla is preparing to launch its updated ‘full self-driving’ software to more customers.

A spokesperson from the NHTSA said a Special Crash Investigation team has been dispatched to investigate the accident.

“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.”

Cities Today has contacted Tesla for comment.

Shanghai Auto Show

Elsewhere, an incident at the Shanghai Auto Show yesterday involving a Tesla owner climbing on top of a car to protest that her vehicle’s brakes had “lost control” has been circulating on social media, Bloomberg has reported.

Security guards surrounded the woman and used open umbrellas to try and conceal her message, with the woman then ripping the umbrellas from their hands, repeatedly yelling “Tesla brake lost control,” before being dragged from the car and escorted away.

Image: Chris Yarzab (Flickr)

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