Story at a glance:
- Two people were killed when their car crashed into a tree and sparked a fire.
- Officials say it wasn’t immediately clear if the car’s “autopilot” function was in use.
- Tesla’s autopilot feature has come under scrutiny following recent crashes.
Two people were killed Friday after the Tesla they were in crashed into a tree and sparked a fire that took four hours to extinguish, Houston news station KPRC 2 reported. Officials say no one was driving the car when it crashed.
The crash happened at 11:25 p.m. in Harris County. One of the men was in the passenger seat and the other man was in the rear seat of the car. Authorities are investigating whether the front passenger air bag deployed and the car’s “advanced driver-assistance system” was activated, The Wall Street Journal reported.
It is unclear whether the autopilot feature was enabled at the time of the crash.
“Our preliminary investigation is determining—but it’s not complete yet—that there was no one at the wheel of that vehicle,” Mark Herman, the precinct four constable for Harris County, said. “We’re almost 99.9% sure.”
It took emergency responders about four hours and roughly 32,000 gallons of water to put out the fire that engulfed the electric vehicle, Herman said.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Teslas' high-voltage batteries make them harder to extinguish than most cars in flames, especially when the batteries are damaged.
The situation was so intense that firefighters contacted Tesla on how to put out the flames, Gizmodo reported.
The discussion about Tesla's Autopilot system focuses on its "Full Self-Driving" limitations and whether it is misleading.
There are several reasons why drivers should not rely exclusively on the autopilot feature, Tesla says.
“Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” Tesla says on its support page. “While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
Tesla’s Autopilot system has come under scrutiny following recent crashes.
In one instance, a drunken driver had no idea why police officers pulled him over in his Tesla Model S — it was because it was self-diving at 70 mph, Wired Magazine reported.
Wired also reported one Florida man is suing the company after his Tesla Model S crashed into another car while on autopilot and while he was distracted on his phone.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA