Two men have died after a Tesla hit a tree in Spring, Texas, near Houston at the weekend when it failed to take a corner. Neither of the pair was behind the wheel at the time – one was found in the front passenger seat, and the other in a rear seat.
Constable Mark Herman of Harris County Precinct 4 told local news outlet KPRC 2 that “no one was driving” the 2019 car at the time of the accident. The subsequent fire reduced the Model S to a burnt-out wreck. It took four hours and nearly 150,000 litres of water to put the fire out due to the battery cells continually reigniting. While the fire was being fought, the authorities contacted Tesla and asked how best to extinguish the blaze.
A KPRC 2 reporter spoke to the brother-in-law of one of the deceased, who said the owner was taking the Tesla out for a drive with his friend. The owner is said to have reversed from a driveway himself, shortly after which it’s thought he climbed into the back seat. The car crashed only a few hundred metres away from the property.
It’s not known at this stage if Autopilot was running at the time of the accident. Tesla bills it as a “hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver,” but the Internet is awash with videos of the system being abused, with drivers asleep or otherwise occupied behind the wheel, or not in the driver’s seat at all.
In several NTSB investigations, the organisation noted the “overreliance” on the system by users, and criticised its “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement”. Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed the company had removed users from its Full Self Driving beta test who “did not pay sufficient attention to the road” when monitored by a driver-facing camera.