Tesla, and specifically Autopilot, has been cleared from blame in the highly publicized fatal crash in Texas that was reported to have happened with “no one in the driver’s seat.”
In April 2021, a strange and tragic accident in a Tesla happened in Spring, Texas.
A Tesla Model S missed a turn, hit a tree, and caught on fire, killing the two occupants. The strange thing was that the police said they don’t think anyone was in the driver seat as someone was found on the front passenger seat and another in the back seat. Furthermore, a family member of the Tesla owner said that he jumped in the back seat when starting the drive.
As we noted at the time, the local media presented the accident as being an autonomous vehicle crash, but Tesla doesn’t have any autonomous vehicles on the road right now, and didn’t at the time – only vehicles with driver-assist features and the FSD Beta, which is also considered level 2 driver assist.
Either way, Tesla’s Autopilot was blamed in the media and both the NTSB and NHTSA launched investigations into the accidents.
Data from the car’s event data recorder, which acts as a sort of black box, indicated that Autopilot features were not activated at the time of the crash.
Now two years later, Tesla has been fully vindicated in the accident as the NTSB as released its final report on the crash today and found no evidence that Autopilot was involved:
On-scene exemplar vehicle testing confirmed the manufacturer-provided information that the car’s Autopilot feature could not have been engaged on the roadway where the crash occurred, due to the lack of lane markings. Investigators found that the TACC system was capable of being engaged; however, testing showed that with TACC engaged, the maximum speed possible on this roadway was approximately 30 mph. The acceleration achieved with TACC engaged was lower than the acceleration documented in the car’s EDR data. This evidence indicated that TACC was not engaged during the crash trip.
Instead, NTSB’s report points to the cause being the driver being impaired from alcohol and medication:
We determined that the probable cause of the Spring, Texas, electric vehicle crash was the driver’s excessive speed and failure to control his car, due to impairment from alcohol intoxication in combination with the effects of two sedating antihistamines, resulting in a roadway departure, tree impact, and postcrash fire.
Tesla and the NTSB have been at odds for years now as the agency opened dozen of investigations on Tesla crashes and believes that the automaker’s “Full Self-Driving Capability” package is misleading.