The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report into the crash outside Houston, Texas last month that left two men dead and raised questions about Tesla’s Autopilot system.
Soon after the accident on April 17, 2021, officials claimed they were “100% sure” no one was behind the wheel during the crash. Mainstream media was quick to latch on to those comments and blame Autopilot, despite the facts making it extremely unlikely it was to blame.
In the report, which the NTSB says is “preliminary and subject to change,” the government agency said the vehicle was too badly damaged to retrieve any on-board data. Using a similar vehicle to the 2019 Model S, also equipped with Autopilot, the NTSB said they were unable to get Autosteer to engage on the road where the accident took place.
“NTSB tests of an exemplar car at the crash location showed that Traffic Aware Cruise Control could be engaged but that Autosteer was not available on that part of the road.”
The report also said footage from the owner’s home security cameras showed him entering the driver seat, and the passenger entering the passenger seat. The Model S is then seen “slowly entering the roadway and then accelerating down the road” out of frame.
The car then travels another 550ft before leaving the road and crashing into the tree.
Although the report makes no reference to it, given the short distance it continues to make it more likely that there was a driver behind the wheel at the time of the crash.
The NTSB is continuing their investigation, which will include postmortem toxicology tests. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Tesla are supporting the NTSB.
You can read the full report here (PDF).