Two men riding inside a driverless Tesla Model S sedan died Saturday night after the vehicle crashed into a tree and immediately caught on fire, according to multiple reports, raising questions about the electric-carmaker’s vehicle safety as the company faces a slew of related federal investigations.
The crash happened shortly before 11:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, when the car failed to make a cul-de-sac turn and ran off the road, authorities told television station KPRC 2.
In a preliminary investigation, police officials concluded that the vehicle was traveling at a high speed but that no one was in the driver’s seat and that the two unidentified men in the car were instead riding in the front passenger seat and in the back.
Authorities told KPRC that it took four hours, 32,000 gallons of water and a call to Tesla to extinguish the flames because the vehicle batteries kept reigniting.
It’s unclear if the Saturday night crash involved Tesla’s self-driving system, but Forbes has reached out to Tesla and Harris County Precinct 4 for comment on the matter.
Over the past couple of years, Tesla has faced growing scrutiny from federal regulators over safety concerns spurred by self-driving car crashes. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees auto safety in the U.S., revealed it’s opened nearly 30 investigations into Tesla car crashes, including nearly two dozen that at the time remained open. The NHTSA says it’s investigated crashes “involving Tesla vehicles where it was believed some form of advanced driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the incident.” According to Reuters, the agency’s Special Crash team investigates more than 100 crashes a year involving emerging technologies, with recent issues arising from vehicles’ adaptive controls, safety belts and child restraint systems, among other things.
In December 2019 and January 2020, there were at least three separate crashes that killed three people and all involved the vehicles’ autopilot driving technology. Tesla has urged drivers to remain cautious while using the autopilot feature and states on its website that “the currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
“Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle,” Elon Musk tweeted Saturday evening, just hours before the crash.
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