Two men died in a Tesla crash in Spring, Texas, Saturday night and no one appeared to be behind the wheel, according to local police, interviewed by reporter Deven Clarke of NBC subsidiary KPRC 2.
The Tesla vehicle hit a tree and reportedly went up in flames. One person was found in the passenger seat and another in the passenger seat of the vehicle.
Based on a preliminary investigation, police told KPRC 2 that they believe no one was behind the wheel but have not yet completed their full investigation. A preliminary examination is inconclusive.
Police did not immediately answer CNBC’s questions about whether the driver could have moved or been thrown from his seat during or after the collision
Firefighters reportedly consumed 32,000 gallons of water and suppressed the fire caused by the electric vehicle accident for hours.
As CNBC previously reported, Tesla sells automated driving systems under the brand names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD). A “beta” version of the FSD (Full Self Driving) beta software will also be released for some customers who have the Premium FSD option, which is currently priced at $ 10,000.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, said on an episode of the Feb.11 Joe Rogan Experience podcast, “I think autopilot gets good enough that you don’t have to drive most of the time unless you really want to.”
The Tesla Autopilot and FSD are unable to control the electric vehicles under all normal driving conditions.
In a letter to the Californian DMV late last year, Tesla attorneys said, according to records from CNBC and others, that “neither autopilot nor FSD capability is an autonomous system.” In the operating instructions, Tesla warns the driver: “The functions currently activated require active driver monitoring and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
Still, many Tesla fans and influencers share videos on social media that show people who drive hands-free for long periods of time, sleep at the wheel, or when no one is in the driver’s seat.
For example, actor Jamie Foxx shared a video on his YouTube channel pretending to be sleeping behind the wheel of a Tesla Model 3 and using it hands-free with his eyes closed. As reported by The Drive, in January of this year a teenager and his mother made a video pretending to be sleeping behind the wheel of a Tesla and then climbing into the back seat to take a nap.
In Germany, a Munich court actually banned Tesla from using terms corresponding to autopilot and full self-driving skills in its advertising because this language misled consumers and overrated the capabilities of the cars.
CNBC has contacted Tesla and the Harris County, Texas Fire Department and Police for more information.
News of the fatal crash comes as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) evaluates public comments it received prior to the proposed rulemaking. The federal authority has not yet regulated automated driving systems, but has left this task to the states.
There have also been several accidents involving Tesla vehicles recently, where federal agencies had to determine if their autopilot or FSD systems were involved in the collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last month it had opened 27 investigations into accidents involving Tesla vehicles, 23 of which are still active.
Just hours before the Spring, Texas fatal crash report, Musk pointed to the company’s self-reported accident data for the first quarter.
He said on Twitter – where he has more than 50 million followers – “Tesla with autopilot is now busy and is approaching a ten times lower chance of an accident than the average vehicle.”
According to data that Tesla has collected but not shared with third parties for independent analysis, the company said, “We recorded one accident for every 4.19 million kilometers driven that drivers were using autopilot. For those who drive without autopilot , but with our active safety We recorded an accident for every 2.05 million kilometers driven. For those who drive without an autopilot and without our active safety functions, we recorded one accident for every 978,000 miles driven. “
Tesla did not disclose how many accidents involving their cars resulted in injury, death, or just vehicle or property damage.