Federal investigators have concluded that two men killed in a Tesla crash in Texas last spring were sitting in the front seats of the car with seatbelts on, contradicting initial statements by local police that no one was driving the vehicle during the accident.
The new information comes from a notice the National Transportation Safety Board posted on its website on Thursday and suggests that the driver of the Tesla, a Model S sedan, had not put the car on the company’s driver-assistance system, known as Autopilot, and gone into the back seat — something other Tesla drivers have done.
A Harris County sheriff’s constable said in April that evidence at the scene of the accident suggested that no one was driving the car when it crashed.
In its notice, the federal safety board also indicated that Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system was likely not in use when the crash occurred. A critical component of Autopilot called Autosteer is not normally active on the unmarked, residential roads where the crash took place in Spring, Texas, a suburb north of Houston, the board said.
Data from the car showed the driver had the accelerator pedal depressed almost all the way and the car was going as fast as 67 miles per hour in the five seconds before the crash. The road has a speed limit of 30 m.p.h.
The car drove off the road at a curve and then hit a drainage culvert, a raised manhole and a tree. The crash damaged the car’s battery pack and it ignited. It took firefighters four hours to douse the high-intensity blaze. The Tesla’s occupants — who were 59 and 69 years old — were fatally injured by the crash and the fire, the safety board said.
The board noted that its investigation was ongoing and that it was still looking at Autopilot; the fire that consumed the car after the crash; whether the occupants were able to exit the car; and whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.