Tesla crash in Houston that left two dead blamed on Autopilot, but a closer look at the details shows that to be unlikely [Update]

A single vehicle accident over the weekend involving a Tesla Model S has left two men dead, and officials blaming Autopilot for the fiery crash.

The incident occurred on Saturday night at around 11:25pm on Hammock Dunes Place, about 40 minutes north of Houston.

According to one of the victim’s brother-in-law, the two men were taking the 2019 Model S for a quick drive. After backing out of their driveway, the car failed to negotiate a slight bend in the road, crashing into a tree just a few hundred yards away.

When authorities arrived on scene, the car was fully engulfed in flames. Initial reports indicated there was just a passenger in the front seat and another in the rear passenger seat.

Tesla crash Houston
Image via KPRC2 News

This was confirmed by Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, who said they are “100% certain no one was in the driver’s seat, driving that vehicle at the time of impact. They’re positive.” The brother-in-law of one of the victims added fuel to the fire by saying he may have hopped in the back seat after pulling out of the driveway.

That statement was eagerly snapped by local and national media, who were quick to blame Tesla’s Autopilot system for the crash. But a closer look at the details shows the car likely wasn’t driving by itself.

UPDATE: Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed on Twitter that based on their initial investigation, Autopilot was not engaged at the time of the accident and the owner had not purchased Full Self-Driving (FSD). Musk also confirmed one of our points about lane markings.

The first thing to look at is the street where the accident took place. As you can see in the image above, there are no lane markings. Autopilot will not engage without lane markings.

You can also tell from the image above that the accident took place very close to the victim’s home. The driver must have been very quick to be able to engage Autopilot, get out of the driver’s seat with the seatbelt still buckled (see what happens below if it gets unbuckled), get in the back seat, and have the car gain enough speed to cause as much damage as was done.

This is also ignoring the fact that Autopilot would be limited to a very low speed on a residential street if it was able to be engaged.

Even if the story is true, the driver purposefully tried to defeat the built-in safety features to ensure Autopilot is used responsibly.

This takes nothing away from how tragic this story is as two people are now dead. But authorities should not be so quick to say no one was driving until they have completed their investigation.

Editor’s note: An original version of this article indicated the fire took four hours to extinguish. This has since been confirmed as false by local authorities.

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