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Mystery of Fatal Tesla Crash With No Driver Is Solved

NTSB report finds that Autopilot was not in use after all in 2021 crash
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2021 12:12 AM CDT
Updated Feb 9, 2023 2:00 AM CST
Tesla Burns for 4 Hours After Fiery Driverless Crash Kills 2
A Tesla electric vehicle emblem is affixed to a passenger vehicle Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Boston.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
UPDATE Feb 9, 2023 2:00 AM CST

Authorities say they know why no one was in the driver's seat when a Tesla Model S crashed in 2021, killing the two men inside, and it's not the reason initially believed. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the driver moved into the back seat after the crash, which they believe was caused by speeding and driver intoxication (alcohol combined with sedating effects of antihistamines), leading the driver to fail to control the vehicle, ABC 13 reports. Investigators say neither Tesla's Autopilot nor its other advanced driver assistance system, Traffic Aware Cruise Control, were in use at the time of the crash, Reuters reports. It's not clear whether the doors were "manually operational" following the crash, investigators say.

Apr 19, 2021 12:12 AM CDT

Two Texas men are dead after a Tesla Model S crashed late Saturday, apparently while in autopilot mode. "No one was driving" when the car hit a tree in Spring around 11:25pm, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman tells Click2Houston. The brother-in-law of one man says the owner of the car decided to take his best friend out for a ride, and may have gotten into the backseat after backing out of the driveway. The car crashed just a few hundred yards later, after failing to negotiate the curve of a cul-de-sac, going off the road, and slamming into a tree. It was traveling at a high rate of speed at the time, KHOU reports.

The vehicle burst into flames after crashing, and the brother-in-law says family members watched for four hours as authorities were unable to put out the blaze because the fully-electric car's batteries kept reigniting. Ultimately, 32,000 gallons of water were used and deputies got in touch with Tesla for help. Only after the fire was extinguished were the bodies recovered, one in the front passenger seat and one in the back. No one else was in the car. Autopsies will be performed. Investigators "are 100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact," Herman says. "They are positive." The men were 59 and 69 years old. (More Tesla stories.)

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