Federal investigators say fatal Tesla Model S crash likely occurred with a driver behind the wheel.

Posted in Investigations

Tesla Texas Crash Investigation: Autopilot OFF
Federal investigators say fatal Tesla Model S crash likely occurred with a driver behind the wheel.

— The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report about a Tesla Texas crash investigation by alleging the crash wasn't caused by the use of Autopilot.

The 9:07 p.m. fatal crash occurred on April 17, 2021, when a 2019 Tesla Model S P100D crashed and caught fire in Spring, Texas.

Dr. William Varner, the 59-year-old Tesla owner, and 69-year-old engineer Everett Talbot were killed in the crash that local police alleged may have occurred with no one behind the wheel.

The road was equipped with street lights but did not have travel lane lines. The maximum speed limit for the road was 30 mph, although no speed limit signs are located in the crash area.

The NTSB says the trip originated at the owner’s residence and footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the Tesla’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat.

The car then departed the residence and traveled about 550 feet before it went off the road on a curve, traveled over the curb, hit a drainage culvert and a raised manhole and then finally a tree.

The crash damaged the lithium-ion battery and a fire destroyed the Model S, as pictured above. Just about everything about the Tesla was destroyed or damaged, including destruction of the onboard storage device inside the infotainment console.

The restraint control module which can record vehicle speed, seat belt status, acceleration and airbag deployment, was recovered but it sustained fire damage.

The restraint control module is being evaluated at the NTSB recorder laboratory.

In addition to claims of no driver behind the wheel, multiple reports alleged Autopilot must have been engaged when the crash occurred.

However, Autopilot requires both the Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer systems to be engaged. Federal investigators drove a Tesla vehicle at the crash location and determined it was possible to engage Traffic Aware Cruise Control, but the Autosteer feature was not available on that part of the road.

NTSB investigators also say there was damage to the steering wheel, suggesting the owner was in the driver's seat when the crash occurred. However, the steering wheel was shipped to the NTSB materials laboratory for further analysis.

"Information in the report is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation progresses and as such, no conclusions about the cause of the crash should be drawn from the report. 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." — NTSB

CarComplaints.com will update our website with results of the Tesla Texas crash investigation.


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