NTSB solves mysteries of fatal Tesla crash without anyone behind the wheel
- February 13, 2023
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National Transportation Safety Board investigators have apparently solved the mystery of why no one was found behind the wheel of a Tesla that crashed in Texas two years ago, killing two men.
The agency said in an investigative report released Wednesday into the April 17, 2021 fiery crash in the Houston suburb of Spring that the 59-year-old Tesla driver appeared to have gone into the back seat after crashing into the front airbag of the car banged and the steering wheel was deformed in the crash.
CBS affiliate KHOU-TV identified the victims as Dr. William Varner and Everette Talbot. The vehicle was Varner’s 2019 Tesla Model S P100D, the broadcaster reported.
Although the accident raised questions about whether the car was operating on Tesla’s Autopilot semi-automated driving system, the NTSB determined that the system could not have been used on the road where the accident occurred due to a lack of lane lines. Tests showed the car’s Traffic Aware Cruise Control system could have been used, although it would only work up to the suburban road speed limit of 30 mph, the report said.
The Tesla reached 67mph for two seconds before hitting the second of two trees at 57mph before being consumed by flames as the lithium-ion battery caught fire.
Tesla’s event data recorder showed that the gas pedal was moving “consistently with driver activity” in the five seconds before the impact and that the driver’s seat belt was on when the impact happened.
“Although the driver’s seat was found vacant and the driver was found in the left rear seat, available evidence indicates that the driver was in the driver’s seat at the time of the accident and moved to the rear seat after the accident,” the report said.
The agency determined that speeding and failure to control the car due to alcohol impairment caused the accident. The report says tests by a Federal Aviation Administration lab showed the driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.151 grams per deciliter, nearly double the Texas legal limit of 0.08. According to the report, two over-the-counter sedating antihistamines were also found in the driver’s blood.
Autopsies revealed the driver died from blunt trauma, burns and smoke inhalation. The 69-year-old male passenger died from blunt force trauma to the torso and extremities and burns, the report said.
The agency said security video from the driver’s home showed the driver and front passenger climbing into the front seats before driving away from the home. The car went about 550 feet before turning off the road, hitting a storm channel inlet and a raised manhole, and sidestepping a tree before hitting another, the agency said.
The day after, Harris County Precinct 4 Cop Mark Herman reported that it took firefighters nearly four hours and more than 30,000 gallons of water to put out the blaze, CBS affiliate KHOU-TV reported.
In its new report, the NTSB recommended that manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage batteries provide guides to help firefighters.
“Publishing the emergency guides in a clear, consistent format would improve their usefulness to responders and make it quicker and easier to find the information they need,” the report said.
Two men die in Tesla Model S fire
“[Investigators] We are 100 percent confident that no one was in the driver’s seat of this vehicle at the time of impact,” said Harris County District 4 Police Officer Mark Herman. “They are positive.” #KHOU11 pic.twitter.com/eQMwpSMLt2
— Matt Dougherty (@MattKHOU) April 18, 2021