Tesla Model S crashes into tree, kills two passengers

Occurred: April 2021

A Tesla Model S failed to navigate a turn in the Houston suburb of Spring before running off the road, hitting a tree, bursting into flames and killing two passengers. Authorities said no one appeared to be in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.

Whilst it was unclear whether the car’s Autopilot driver-assist system was being used, the implication of nobody being in the driver's seat was that it was likely switched on.

However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk later claimed on Twitter that 'data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled and this car did not purchase FSD.' He also said that 'standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.'

According to Electrek, 'Tesla has been known to pull the logs out of vehicles involved in crashes where Autopilot was blamed ... and has also been known to sometimes present the data in misleading ways.'

A US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation concluded the driver was operating the vehicle up until the moment it hit the tree and that they had been under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

A few days after the incident, Consumer Reports tricked a Tesla into driving in the car’s Autopilot mode with no one at the wheel.

Operator: Will Varner
Developer: Tesla
Country: USA
Sector: Automotive
Purpose: Automate steering, acceleration, braking
Technology: Driver assistance system
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Safety
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Marketing

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Type: Incident
Published: February 2023