By Rebecca Elliott 

U.S. auto safety regulators are investigating a fatal weekend crash involving a Tesla Inc. vehicle, adding to a series of probes into incidents involving the electric-vehicle maker.

Local authorities believe the Tesla Model S was operating without anyone in the driver's seat when it crashed into a tree Saturday night north of Houston, killing two men.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had launched a team to investigate the crash.

"We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information," NHTSA said in a statement.

Authorities on Sunday were still investigating whether the vehicle's advanced driver-assistance system, known as Autopilot, was engaged at the time of the crash.

Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has previously said that Autopilot made Tesla vehicles safer than others.

Tesla tells drivers using the feature to pay attention to the road and be prepared to take control of the vehicle.

NHTSA has launched more than two dozen investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles, several of them in recent months.

Mark Herman, the Harris County constable over Precinct 4, where the accident happened, has said he believes no one was behind the wheel at the time of the crash. One of the men who died in the accident was found in the front passenger's seat and the other was in the back seat, he said.

Mr. Herman added that he didn't believe a driver could have moved into the front passenger's seat or back seat after the crash to try to escape the vehicle. He said the two individuals in the car were aged 69 years and 59 years.

"Never say never, but I can tell you that's not the direction our investigation is going," he said.

Mr. Herman added that his staff had been in touch with NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board about the crash.

Write to Rebecca Elliott at rebecca.elliott@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 19, 2021 12:39 ET (16:39 GMT)

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