Feb 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Investigation finds Tesla Autopilot not at fault in fatal Texas crash

Tesla logo

A Tesla logo. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

A mysterious Tesla crash that killed two men in the spring of 2021 was not caused by the vehicle’s automated driving system, a new National Highway Transportation Safety Administration investigation found.

Driving the news: Investigators determined that the Tesla’s Autopilot feature could not have been used where the crash happened, because the suburban street lacked lane lines.

  • After the crash, the car’s driver’s seat was found empty, leading to questions over whether Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which enables a vehicle to steer, brake and accelerate on their own, malfunctioned.

Details: The car, a 2019 Model S, reached 67 miles per hour before jumping a curb and slamming into a tree at 57 mph. Flames consumed it when its battery caught fire.

  • The driver, a 59-year-old, was wearing a seatbelt when the crash occurred, but ended up in the back seat after colliding with the car’s front air bag and mangling the steering wheel.
  • The car’s high speed and the driver’s impairment - his blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit in Texas - caused the crash, the report stated.

The big picture: In a 12-month span, Teslas accounted for roughly 70% of the 392 car crashes involving vehicles using an advanced driver assistance system, a separate NHTSA analysis found last year.

  • The Department of Justice requested information from the automaker about its automated driving system last month, Telsa confirmed to investors, Bloomberg reported.
  • Reuters reported last fall that the DOJ investigation into Tesla is a criminal probe.
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