NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Deadly Tesla Crash, Noting Autopilot Could Not Have Been Engaged: News

NTSB: Tesla crash preliminary report released
The charred remains of a 2019 Tesla Model S that caught fire after an accident in a Houston suburb on April 17, killing the two occupants. (Photo: NTSB)

A preliminary report sheds new light on last month’s fatal Tesla crash.

This accident both alarmed the public at-large and bewildered investigators when it took place last month. Apart from the Model S catching fire, the key puzzle surrounds neither occupant being in the driver’s seat. On Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)’s two-page report brings new details into focus, while debunking some earlier speculation. Namely, that Autopilot could not have been engaged before the incident, and that a home security camera showed the owner entering the driver’s seat before the trip.

That is a new crucial piece of information, as it does further reinforce the driver, Dr. William Varner, couldn’t likely move into the back seat in the short distance the car traveled.

Autopilot does not engage at the accident site

After setting off, the Tesla traveled 550 feet down a residential street. The report did not state how quickly the vehicle was going, but noted the speed limit is 30 mph. The NTSB tested an exemplar vehicle, and said in their report the Autopilot system could not be fully engaged. While they were able to use the Traffic Aware Cruise Control, the Autosteer could not be activated, which is another crucial piece of the system. Tesla already had insisted that was the case, and data they possessed showed the system was not active at the time of the April 17 crash.

NTSB: Tesla crash preliminary report released
Tesla insisted Autopilot could not be active where this crash occurred, and the preliminary NTSB report seems to bear that out. (Photo: Tesla)

The Tesla Model S departed at a curve in the road, drove over a curb, then hit a drainage culvert, raised manhole cover and a tree. The onboard storage device found inside the infotainment system was destroyed as the car’s lithium-ion battery pack caught fire, eventually consuming the entire vehicle. Although damaged, investigators were able to recover the restraint control module. That module offers information on vehicle speed, seat belt status, and airbag deployment.

Local authorities said Dr. Varner was in the back seat when responders arrived on the scene. However, the preliminary report does not mention that piece of the puzzle, nor does it ascertain how that could have happened. “The NTSB continued to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology results, seat belt use, occupant egress, and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation as the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes.”

The full NTSB preliminary report into the Tesla crash is available on the agency’s website.