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Tesla owner seen on video entering driver’s seat before fiery crash in The Woodlands, NTSB says

THE WOODLANDS, Texas (KTRK) — While law enforcement insists no one was in the driver’s seat of a fiery Tesla crash that killed two people in The Woodlands, preliminary findings from federal transportation investigators stated the vehicle’s owner was seen taking the driver’s seat moments before taking off.

In a preliminary report issued Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board, findings also stated the “Autosteer” feature in the Model S P100D was not available on the part of the roadway where the crash happened.

The NTSB explained the vehicle was equipped with “Autopilot,” which requires the use of “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control” and “Autosteer.”

In recent weeks, the carmaker’s CEO Elon Musk disputed claims of the autopilot feature is activated when the crash happened, something that the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office said in the immediate aftermath.

The 59-year-old owner and a 69-year-old passenger, both identified as Dr. William Varner and Everett Talbot, respectively, died in the April 17 incident.

“According to the report the crash trip began at the owner’s residence. Footage from the owner’s home security cameras show the owner entering the driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the NTSB stated. “The video also shows the car slowly entering the roadway and then accelerating down the road away from the camera and out of sight.”

The federal agency continued, “Based on examination of the accident scene investigators have determined the car traveled about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.

The car’s restraint control module – which can record data related to vehicle speed, seat belt status, acceleration and airbag deployment – was damaged but recovered by NTSB for evaluation. The steering wheel was also shipped to the NTSB lab for analysis.

The NTSB said its investigation is ongoing

In the wake of the crash last month, a local Tesla club told Eyewitness News about the driving assistance technology that comes with these cars, and those owners said the vehicle will not even start if no one is in the driver’s seat.

“You know, you’re warned when you pick up your Tesla that this is just a driving assistance system. It’s not, it doesn’t drive yourself yet,” local Tesla owner Stephen Pace said. “That’s the goal that eventually they will be able to drive themselves, but today it warns you if you don’t touch your steering wheel constantly. It checks for weight in the seat, so it won’t just start. So there are many safety protocols built into this system.

NTSB Issues Preliminary Report for Fatal, Texas, Tesla Crash
5/10/2021
WASHINGTON (May 10, 2021) — The National Transportation Safety Board issued Monday the preliminary report for its ongoing investigation of the fatal, April 17, 2021, the crash of a 2019 Tesla Model S near Spring, Texas.

Information in the report is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation progresses and as such, no conclusions about the cause of the crash should be drawn from the report.

The report states the Model S P100D car was equipped with “Autopilot” – Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system. This system requires both the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and the Autosteer systems to be engaged. NTSB tests of an exemplar car at the crash location showed that Traffic-Aware Cruise Control could be engaged, but Autosteer was not available on the part of the road (Hammock Dunes Place) where the crash happened.

According to the report the crash trip began at the owner’s residence. Footage from the owner’s home security cameras shows the owner entering the driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat. The video also shows the car slowly entering the roadway and then accelerating down the road away from the camera and out of sight. Based on examination of the accident scene investigators have determined the car traveled about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.

The post-crash fire destroyed the car’s onboard data storage device and damaged the car’s restraint control module. The damaged module was recovered and taken to the NTSB’s recorder laboratory for evaluation. Restraint control modules can record data associated with vehicle speed, seat belt status, acceleration and airbag deployment.

The steering wheel from the Tesla was shipped to the NTSB materials laboratory for analysis of the damage to the steering wheel investigators observed during the post-crash inspection.

The 59-year-old owner and a 69-year-old passenger died in the crash.

The NTSB’s investigation of the crash is ongoing, and investigators continue to gather information including data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress and the post-crash fire.

Related News Releases
May 10, 2021
NTSB Issues Preliminary Report for Fatal, Texas, Tesla Crash
Related Reports
Preliminary Report – Highway: HWY21FH007​
Related Events
Related Investigations
2-Fatal Crash involving a Tesla Model S that ran off the road and collided with a tree
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Contact: NTSB Media Relations
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Phone Number
(202) 314-6100

 

 

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