NTSB: Driver was driving at Tesla Texas crash


DETROIT – A driver was behind the wheel when a Tesla electric car crashed and burned down last April near Houston, killing two men, neither of whom were found in the driver’s seat.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board announced the results in an update to an investigation report released Thursday into the April 17 crash on a residential road in Spring, Texas.

Although first responders found one man in the back seat and the other in the front passenger seat, the NTSB said the driver and a passenger were seated in the front seats with seat belts fastened at the time of the crash.

The agency said the car was traveling at up to 67 mph in the five seconds before the crash and the driver was accelerating. Data from the car’s fire-damaged event data recorder revealed that at times the accelerator pedal was depressed up to 98.8%, according to the NTSB report.

The investigation is continuing and the agency has not determined whether Tesla’s partially automated Autopilot driver assistance system was working at the time of the crash. The NTSB said it was still examining the autopilot, whether the men might have had difficulty exiting the car, driver toxicology testing and other items. The agency will make these decisions in a final report.

The update report did not know how or why the driver unbuckled the seat belt and changed their seating position, although it did indicate that the crash damaged the housing of the high-voltage lithium-ion battery in the car. Tesla Model S, where the fire started.

The fatal journey began at the owner’s home near the end of a cul-de-sac, and a home security video showed the owner sitting in the driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat, according to the report. The car traveled approximately 550 feet before turning off the road, crossing a curb, hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole and a tree.

The accident happened at approximately 9:07 p.m. on Hammock Dunes Place, a two-lane residential road. The 59-year-old owner and the 69-year-old passenger were killed.

In a preliminary report in May, the NTSB said it had tested another Tesla vehicle on the same road and the autopilot driver assistance system could not be fully utilized. Investigators were unable to operate the system’s automated steering system, but were able to use traffic-sensing cruise control.

The autopilot needs both cruise control and automatic steering to operate. Traffic-sensitive cruise control can keep the car a safe distance from vehicles in front, while autoguiding keeps it in its own lane. The report said the road also had no track lines. This could have been the reason why the automatic steering was not working.

The agency said it intended to issue safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents.

Local authorities said a man was found in the front passenger seat, while another was in the back.

Harris County Police Officer Mark Herman said the car was traveling at high speed at the time. He wouldn’t say if there was any evidence that someone tampered with Tesla’s system for monitoring the driver, which detects the strength of the hands on the steering wheel. The system will issue warnings and eventually stop the car if it does not detect the hands. But critics say Tesla’s system is easy to cheat and can take up to a minute to shut down.

Consumer Reports said in April that it was able to easily trick a Tesla into driving on autopilot with no one behind the wheel.

The NTSB, which has no regulatory authority and can only make recommendations, said it was working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the investigation. The NHTSA has the authority to make vehicle safety regulations. The federal investigation is taking place at the same time as a parallel investigation by local authorities, the NTSB said.

The crash in Texas raised questions as to whether the autopilot was working at the time and whether Tesla was doing enough to make sure the drivers were engaged. The company states in owner’s manuals and on its website that autopilot is a driver assistance system and that drivers should be prepared to take action at all times.

Tesla’s vice president of automotive engineering, Lars Moravy, said on the company’s April 26 results conference call that an inspection of the severely burnt car found the steering wheel to be deformed, “this which therefore resulted in a probability that someone was sitting in the driver’s seat. at the time of the accident. He said all seat belts were found unbuckled.

The NHTSA has stepped up its investigations into Tesla Autopilot. In August, he opened a formal investigation into the system after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles.

The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, almost all that Tesla has sold in the United States since the start of the 2014 model year. Among the accidents identified as part of the investigation, 17 people were injured and one was injured. been killed.

NHTSA says it has identified 12 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on autopilot or cruise control warning traffic struck vehicles at scenes where first responders used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of dangers.

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