- The NTSB on Monday released a preliminary investigation into a fatal Tesla crash in April.
- The agency said its tests indicate Autopilot cannot be used on the road where the crash happened.
- Local police initially said there was no driver at the wheel when the accident occurred.
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The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday released preliminary findings from its investigation into a fatal Tesla crash in April, offering new details about the incident but leaving key questions unanswered.
The agency said security camera footage from the owner’s Houston-area residence showed him entering the driver’s seat of the 2019 Model S. The passenger entered the front passenger’s seat. Video then showed the car traveling roughly 550 feet before skipping over the curb and crashing into a tree.
Autosteer, a key feature of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system could not have been enabled on the stretch of road where the incident occurred, the agency said, confirming Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s assertions in the wake of the crash.
In tests, the NTSB said it was able to switch on Traffic-Aware Cruise Control – which can maintain speed and distance from other cars – but not Autosteer, the automatic steering feature that makes up the rest of Autopilot’s main capabilities.
The Texas incident attracted a large of media attention when local police said they believed nobody was driving the sedan when it barreled off the road and burst into flames. First responders found the victims’ bodies in the front passenger’s seat and the back seat of the car, according to police and the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.
But Tesla has disputed that initial characterization of the events. Musk tweeted that the car did not have Autopilot engaged and that the system can’t function on the street where the crash occurred because it does not have lane markings. A Tesla executive said on an April conference call that the company believes someone was driving the car when it crashed.
-Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 19, 2021
The NTSB’s investigation is still ongoing, and the agency said its report may be supplemented or corrected over time.
The crash and subsequent fire destroyed the car’s onboard storage device, the NTSB said. However, the car’s restraint-control module, which logs data about vehicle speed, acceleration, seatbelts, and airbags, was recovered and is being evaluated by investigators.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also launched a probe into the crash but has not yet released any findings.
Tesla, which is cooperating with the investigation, did not immediately return a request for comment.