Deadly Texas Tesla Crash Might Have Had No Driver at the Wheel

Another fatal crash prompts questions about Elon Musk's autopilot claims.

2 minute read

April 29, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Tinxi / Shutterstock

A recent fatal crash outside of Houston highlights the dangers of relying on Tesla's Full Self-Driving Capability, the $10,000 feature that "includes Autopilot, a feature that 'automatically' drives on highways, changing lanes, keeping a car within its lane and at a consistent distance from other vehicles."

Despite the name, Tesla warns against using the features without proper supervision in company materials, writes Aarian Marshall in Wired. "Lengthy blocks of text in Tesla owners’ manuals describe when, where, and how the features should be used: by a fully attentive driver who is holding the steering wheel and is 'mindful of road conditions and surrounding traffic.' That driver shouldn’t be near city streets, construction zones, bicyclists, or pedestrians, the manual says."

The two men died "when their 2019 Model S reportedly slammed into a tree and caught fire," possibly with no driver at the wheel. "Harris County constable Mark Herman said that while local authorities’ preliminary investigation is not complete, they believe no one was behind the wheel of the vehicle when it crashed." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the incident. "A spokesperson for NHTSA says the agency has opened investigations into 28 Tesla-related crash incidents." 

Despite Tesla CEO Elon Musk's claim that "Autopilot's getting good enough that you won't need to drive most of the time unless you really want to" and his unfulfilled 2019 assertion that his company would operate one million robotaxis by the end of 2020, the company told the California Department of Motor Vehicles that "Full Self-Driving will 'remain largely unchanged in the future,' and that FSD will remain an 'advanced driver-assistance feature' rather than an autonomous one."

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