Tesla Crash Believed to Be Driverless Draws Investigation -- 3rd Update
By Rebecca Elliott
U.S. safety officials 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 sedan was operating
without anyone in the driver's seat when it crashed into a tree
Saturday night north of Houston, killing the two men inside.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the
National Transportation Safety Board both said Monday that they
were investigating the crash. NHTSA has enforcement authority over
auto makers, while the NTSB issues safety recommendations.
"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 written
The NTSB said on Twitter that it was sending two people to
investigate, adding that its probe would focus on the vehicle's
operation and the fire that local officials said engulfed the car
for roughly four hours.
Authorities on Monday 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 respond to a request for comment. The company has
previously said that Autopilot made Tesla vehicles safer than
Tesla tells drivers using the feature to pay attention to the
road and be prepared to take control of the vehicle.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), who sits on the Commerce,
Science and Transportation Committee, on Monday called for
"comprehensive oversight" to prevent deaths tied to advanced
"Using Tesla's driverless system -- or any other -- shouldn't be
a death risk," he tweeted. "Advancements in driving technology must
first & foremost be safe." The senator has previously expressed
concern about the safety of advanced driver-assistance
Tesla's shares fell 3.4% in Monday trading.
The company on Monday also had to contend with a protester in
China making a disputed claim about the safety of Tesla vehicles
that drew attention across the Chinese internet. A woman climbed
atop a Tesla Model 3 sedan at the Auto Shanghai expo and made
allegations about faulty brakes on Tesla vehicles.
Tesla said in a statement on Weibo that the protester was a
Tesla customer whose father was involved in a February accident in
which his Model 3 crashed into another vehicle. The company said
the accident was due to excessive speed.
In the U.S., NHTSA has launched more than two dozen
investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles, several of
them in recent months. Two March crashes in Michigan drew federal
probes, as did a February crash in Texas. None of those accidents
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 killed 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 69 and 59 years old.
"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 NTSB about the crash.
The scrutiny comes as Tesla is working through its largest-ever
recall. The company agreed earlier this year to recall roughly
135,000 vehicles over touch-screen failures.
The prolonged fire after this weekend's Tesla accident rekindles
questions about the flammability of lithium-ion batteries that have
become a concern for regulators and car makers as hybrid and
electric vehicles using them become more numerous. If damaged, the
high-voltage batteries used in electric vehicles can reignite even
after firefighters extinguish a blaze because of energy that
remains in some cells, according to the NTSB.
The agency recently warned that auto makers' instructions to
first responders about how to fight battery fires were lacking in
some areas. The auto industry has said it is working to ensure
safety of the vehicles.
Concerns about fires involving lithium-ion batteries and the
challenge of extinguishing them have led to restrictions on the
bulk air-shipment of such power cells and, at times, the transport
of gadgets using them.
Write to Rebecca Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 19, 2021 17:05 ET (21:05 GMT)
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