Lawmakers demand answers in fatal Tesla crash after Elon Musk and executives offer conflicting details

Texas Tesla Crash.
The remains of a Tesla vehicle are seen after it crashed, killing two people, in The Woodlands, Texas, on April 17, 2021.

  • Lawmakers demanded answers Wednesday about a fatal Tesla crash after executives gave conflicting statements.
  • Elon Musk said autopilot wasn’t on, but a top Tesla exec said adaptive cruise control, an autopilot feature, was.
  • Rep. Kevin Brady and Sen. Richard Blumenthal criticized Tesla’s public statements about the crash.
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Lawmakers slammed Tesla’s public response to a deadly crash involving one of its Model S vehicles that killed two men near Houston, Texas, earlier this month following conflicting statements from the company’s executives.

“Despite early claims by #Tesla #ElonMusk, autopilot WAS engaged in tragic crash in The Woodlands. We need answers,” Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, tweeted Wednesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he was “disappointed” that Musk weighed in publicly at all, given that two federal agencies still have ongoing investigations into the incident.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Local authorities said following the crash that neither of the bodies they recovered were in the driver’s seat, prompting questions about whether the vehicle’s “autopilot” system – a suite of AI-powered driver assistance features – was engaged when the vehicle crashed.

Two days after the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that early data obtained from the Model S showed “autopilot was not enabled,” and he doubled down on those claims in Tesla’s earnings call Monday, contradicting local authorities.

But in that same call, Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy said that the vehicle’s traffic-aware, or adaptive, cruise control – part of the autopilot system, according to Tesla’s Model S owner manual – was engaged during the crash.

“Our adaptive cruise control only engaged when the driver was buckled in above 5 miles per hour. And it only accelerated to 30 miles per hour with the distance before the car crashed,” Moravy said, adding that the feature also “disengaged the car slowly to complete to a stop when the driver’s seatbelt was unbuckled.”

Moravy also pushed back on Texas authorities’ statements that no one was driving the car when it crashed.

“Through further investigation of the vehicle and accident remains, we inspected the car with NTSB and NHTSA and the local police and were able to find that the steering wheel was indeed deformed,” he said, “leading to a likelihood that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash and all seatbelts post crash were found to be unbuckled.”

Despite misleading and unverified claims about the autopilot’s capabilities and possible safety advantages, the feature doesn’t make Tesla vehicles fully autonomous. At least three drivers have died while using Tesla’s Autopilot, and the National Transportation Safety Board has called for increased scrutiny of self-driving software.

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Elon Musk says some Tesla drivers were removed from beta tests for its Full Self-Driving software for not paying attention to the road

esla head Elon Musk arrives to have a look at the construction site of the new Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin on September 03, 2020 near Gruenheide, Germany.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said his company pulled access for some Full Self-Driving software testers.
  • Tesla “revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road,” Musk said.
  • On Friday, CNBC reported NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt sought new requirements for public testing.
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday said the carmaker had expanded the public testing pool for its Full Self-Driving software to about 2,000 vehicle owners but also revoked access for drivers who didn’t pay close attention to the road.

Tesla “revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road,” Musk said on Twitter late Friday. “No accidents to date.”

Musk didn’t offer further details about how many drivers have lost access, or how Tesla made decisions about pulling access. Insider has reached out to the company for comment.

Musk’s statement followed a Friday report saying the National Transportation Safety Board chairman called for increased scrutiny of self-driving software.

On Friday, CNBC reported that NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt had in February sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking for updated requirements for carmakers testing software like Tesla’s on public roads.

Sumwalt’s letter mentioned Tesla by name 16 times, as CNBC reported. He wrote that Tesla was testing its software on public roads “with limited oversight or reporting requirements.”

He added: “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of [automated vehicle] testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users.”

A week ago, Musk said Tesla would double the size of its public beta testing program for version 8.2 of its software. “Still be careful, but it’s getting mature,” he said.

He added that he expected the beta testing program to expand tenfold for software version 8.3, which would be released in “probably two or three weeks.” On Friday, he said the next “significant release will be in April.”

A cache of emails between Tesla and California regulators were made public by a transparency advocacy group, PlainSite, on Friday.

In the emails, a Tesla lawyer said the company had “made it abundantly clear” to beta testers that the system “does not make the vehicle autonomous and that the driver is responsible for being fully attentive at all times.”

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Harrowing video from inside United flight 328 shows the engine on fire as plane spews debris across Colorado neighborhoods

colorado plane debris
People look over debris that fell off a plane that shed parts over a neighborhood in Broomfield, Colo., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

  • Though it landed safely, videos from the ground and sky show United flight 328’s engine in flames.
  • A passenger on the plane took a video of the engine on fire and rattling in the air.
  • Authorities said no one on the plane or on the ground was injured in the event.
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Several videos posted on social media on Saturday showed United Airlines flight 328 soaring through the sky with one engine on fire just before the plane landed safely at a Denver airport.

The plane, a Boeing 777-200, dropped debris throughout several Colorado neighborhoods, including a massive piece that narrowly missed someone’s home.

None of the flight’s 231 passengers and 10 crew members were injured, nor was anyone on the ground below, authorities said.

One video showed the engine rattling ominously and engulfed in flames.

 

Another video from a driver’s dashboard camera showed the moment the engine exploded in the sky, leaving behind a plume of black smoke.

 

Photos from after the landing showed charred remnants of the engine.

 

The plane had taken off from Denver International Airport in Colorado, en route to Honolulu, Hawaii. It safely returned to the airport shortly after takeoff.

In another video, passengers could be heard cheering and clapping after the plane touched down.

 

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the flight had experienced a right engine failure after takeoff. Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

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Mercedes recalls thousands of SUVs over a software error

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Mercedes-Benz US is recalling thousands of its sport utility vehicles over a program software error that could cause a car to move to one side during a maneuver. The error could increase the risk of a crash, the company said in a filing to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

The company is recalling 41,838 of its cars including certain 2020-2021 GLE450, GLE350 and 2020 GLS450, GLE580, and GLS580 models, according to its filing.

Mercedes-Benz USA didn’t respond to Insider’s question if the error caused material damage or injuries in the US.

The car’s Electronic Stability Program software could apply a twisting force to one of the front wheels, pulling the car to move to one side as it steers.

The software will be fixed free of charge starting April 13, Mercedes-Benz said in the filing.

Earlier this month, Mercedes recalled around 1.3 million cars over an error with its automatic emergency-call system that could send responders to the wrong vehicle location. The car models recalled included CLA, GLA, GLE, GLS, SLC, A, GT, C, E, S, CLS, SL, B, GLB, GLC, and G, the Associated Press reported.

The company told Insider last week that Mercedes-Benz US was not aware of any case of material damage or personal injuries caused by this issue.

In January, Mercedes-Benz revealed its new 2022 EQA 250 crossover, its latest electric vehicle model.

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