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NTSB releases report on fatal Tesla crash in Texas

Officials say there was a driver behind the wheel and Autopilot isn’t to blame

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Photo (c) benedek - Getty Images
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report on the recent fatal crash of a 2019 Tesla Model S in the Houston area. 

On April 17, two men in Texas were killed after a Tesla Model S left the road on a curve and eventually crashed into a tree. The impact damaged the car’s lithium-ion battery, which started a fire. 

Shortly after the crash, police told reporters that they were “100 percent certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact.” However, the NTSB said in its report that the car’s owner was seated in the driver’s seat and his companion was in the front passenger seat. 

“Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the report said. 

The agency said the car traveled "about 550 feet" from the owner’s home before leaving the road at the curb, going over the curve, hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and then a tree. A fire ensued when the vehicle crashed into the tree. 

The agency also said in the report that Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist technology couldn’t have been engaged at the time of the crash because it couldn’t be enabled in that location. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk previously insisted that Autopilot couldn’t have been active at the time of the crash, tweeting out data logs indicating that Autopilot was not enabled and that the car in question didn’t purchase the full self-driving feature. 

Investigation ongoing

The NTSB described the road being traveled prior to the accident as "a concrete two-lane road with one westbound and one eastbound lane and mountable concrete curbs on either side.” The road was level with no line markings, and the speed limit was 30 mph. There was a curve to the south where the Tesla crashed, the agency said. 

Although the infotainment system in the car was destroyed by the fire, the "restraint control module" was recovered (albeit in damaged condition) and handed over to the NTSB to evaluate. The component stores data that includes how fast the car was going, acceleration details, whether seatbelts were in use, and more. 

The NTSB’s investigation is ongoing, and it hasn’t yet decided on the probable cause of the accident. The agency is still looking to glean insights on several issues, including seatbelt use, crash dynamics, and whether the passengers were intoxicated at the time. 

Once a probable cause is determined, the NTSB plans to issue safety recommendations to prevent future crashes.

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