Two men were killed in Spring, Texas, on Sunday, April 18th, when the Tesla vehicle they were occupying crashed into a tree and burst into flames. The men were using the vehicle’s autopilot feature at the time of the crash and initial investigations show that there was no driver in the driver’s seat at the time of the incident.
The Incident and the Fire Suppression Efforts
According to police, the wives of the two men involved in the accident overheard them talking about taking a drive using the Tesla 2019 Model S autopilot feature minutes before the deadly crash.
Reports claim the vehicle failed to follow a curve and collided with a tree, bursting into flames. The two men, aged 59 and 69, were reportedly sitting in the passenger and back seats at the time of the accident based on preliminary investigations, which have not yet concluded.
The vehicle remained on fire for hours following the crash and required 32,000 gallons of water to be suppressed. This is reportedly due to the vehicle’s high-voltage batteries, which, when damaged, can reignite even after being extinguished.
Images of the vehicle following the blaze show a melted down frame with no roof, hood, or sides intact.
Are Self-Driving Teslas Actually Fully Automated?
Tesla vehicles are available with two types of automated driving systems, the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems. On February 11th, Elon Musk stated that the Autopilot system was so effective that “you won’t need to drive… unless you really want to.”
However, Tesla manuals state that both systems require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.
Despite this, many Tesla owners have shared footage of themselves riding in their vehicles while sleeping, hands-free, or driver-free.
In Germany, Tesla has been restricted from using terms like “autopilot” and “full self-driving capability” because they found that these terms can mislead customers into overestimating the vehicle’s autonomous capabilities.
So far, the responsibility for regulating these systems falls to the states, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that they will open a special investigation into the Texas accident.
Just last month, the NHTSA said they opened 27 such investigations into Tesla accidents.
Still, Musk posted on Twitter just hours before the Texas accident stating, “Tesla [vehicles] with Autopilot engaged [are] now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle.”
The company’s own data has shown that vehicles with the Autopilot and safety features engaged were in accidents roughly half as often as vehicles with the safety features alone being activated.