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'There was no one driving that vehicle': Texas cops suspect Autopilot involved after two men killed in Tesla crash

Model S took corner at high speed, left road, and smashed into a tree

Updated Authorities are investigating a Tesla crash in Texas in which two men were killed this weekend. The authorities are probing whether the vehicle was operating in its Autopilot mode with neither occupant in control.

According to reports, the collision happened at 23:25 local time on 17 April in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands.

Neither of the two unnamed victims – born in 1962 and 1951 – were in the driver's seat at the time of the accident, according to Sgt Cynthia Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4, who spoke to local TV station Khou-TV (geo-restricted).

Constable Mark Herman added the department was "100 per cent certain" no one was driving the vehicle.

"Our investigators are trained. They handle collisions. Several of our folks are reconstructionists, but they feel very confident just with the positioning of the bodies after the impact that there was no one driving that vehicle," he said.

The vehicle, a 2019 Tesla Model S, was said to be traveling at high speeds when it failed to properly navigate a corner. After careering off the roadway, the car hit a tree and burst into flames.

Herman said it took four hours and more than 30,000 gallons of water for firefighters to extinguish the flames. With conventional cars, this takes a few minutes, he added, and fire crews were forced to contact Tesla for advice, understood to mean on how to deal with a fire involving its batteries.

Tesla boss Elon Musk has not explicitly responded to the incident. He had posted a tweet earlier that day claiming cars running Autopilot were 10 times less likely to have an accident than the overall average.

Tesla has always maintained that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel when its Autopilot software is engaged, making it more of a super-cruise-control rather than a true autonomous vehicle system.

This wouldn't be the first fatal crash involving Autopilot, if it were to be involved at all in this case. In 2019, a Tesla 3 smashed into a passing truck killing the driver. Investigators claimed he engaged Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. The following year, the family of a Japanese cyclist killed after colliding with a Model X sued the company in California Federal Court, alleging its Autopilot software failed to recognise other road users, and allowed the occupant of the vehicle to doze off while behind the wheel.

The Register has asked Tesla to comment. ®

Updated to add

Musk has tweeted to say recovered logs showed Autopilot was not enabled nor installed on the crashed car.

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