Autopilot is to blame for another major, fatal crash.
Harris County, Texas officials told local station KRPC 2 that “no one was driving” a 2019 Tesla Model S after two men died in a fiery crash this weekend. The vehicle was supposedly traveling at a high rate of speed — possibly while using its Autopilot feature — when it failed to navigate a bend near a cul-de-sac and ran straight off the road. It then smashed into a tree and burst into flames, killing the two occupants.
While “Tesla bursts into flames killing occupants” is concerning enough, the other piece of the story is a bizarre turn. At the moment, it’s unclear exactly what happened, but authorities say the car’s owner was sitting upright in the back seat when the accident happened. The other passenger was in the front passenger seat. According to the report, Harris County constable Mark Herman said the owner may have backed out of his driveway, then may have gotten in the back seat only to crash a few hundred yards down the road, as the car failed to navigate a turn. One man’s brother-in-law said he was taking his best friend out for a spin, and that they were the only two occupants in the vehicle.
The car burned to the ground
He and other relatives watched on for hours as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze. They reportedly used 32,000 gallons of water to try and put the Tesla out, but the batteries kept reigniting. While the battery packs are designed to be as robust as possible, they aren’t impervious to catching fire, and are a major concern for EVs moving forward. As for what other conditions were at play prior to the accident, more details will emerge from the investigation in due course.
No Level 2 system is “set it and forget it”
It’s worth saying, even outside the gruesome circumstances, that all these systems, including Tesla’s Autopilot, are intended to be used with the driver alert behind the wheel. They’re meant to aid in steering, accelerating and braking. Even though the most advanced version is called “Full Self-Driving”, humans still (and in certain areas, fairly often) need to take over at a moment’s notice when something goes wrong.
The name does create a misconception, with plenty of stories out there of folks trying to sleep, read, play or their phones or even hop seats while the system’s engaged. At this point, no system is capable of completely driving itself without any human intervention.
Tesla, for its part, writes an extensive list of scenarios in which their systems may not work. Near the top, though, is the disclaimer: “Never depend on these components to keep you safe. It is the driver’s responsibility to stay alert, drive safely, and be in control of the vehicle at all times.”