Tesla faces another NHTSA investigation after fatal driverless crash in Spring, Texas

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TSLATesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveils a new all-wheel-drive version of the Model S car in Hawthorne, California October 9, 2014.Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it “immediately” launched another investigation into Tesla following a fatal crash in Spring, Texas over the weekend.

Two men died in the crash Saturday night, and apparently, nobody was behind the wheel, according to multiple press interviews with local police.

The electric vehicle, a Tesla 2019 Model S, crashed into a tree and burst into flames. One person was found in the front passenger seat, and another was in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle.

Another federal agency, The National Transportation Safety Board, said it is also sending two investigators to Texas and will focus their analysis on the vehicle’s operation and post-crash fire.

Police and federal vehicle safety authorities have not finished their comprehensive investigations. A preliminary report is not conclusive, and questions remain about whether Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems were engaged before or during the crash.

The company’s systems are marketed under the brand names Autopilot, Full Self-Driving or Full Self-Driving beta. Tesla includes Autopilot standard in all of its newer vehicles. And it sells Full Self-Driving for $10,000 with a subscription option in the works.

Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (or FSD) technology do not make Tesla vehicles safe for operation without a driver at the wheel. Some customers who purchase the FSD option also get access to a “beta” version to try the newest features that are being added to the system on public roads before all bugs are worked out.

The company says in its owners’ manuals that drivers must use Autopilot and FSD only with “active supervision.”

At the same time, CEO Elon Musk touts these systems as safe and continuously improving on Twitter, where he has 50 million followers, and in media appearances.

On an episode of the popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast in February, Musk and Rogan discussed how Tesla drivers could play chess on their cars’ touchscreens while driving, even though they shouldn’t. (They have to press a button stating that they are the passenger.)

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