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This article was published on May 11, 2021

Fatal Tesla crash mystery intensifies: Was there a driver behind the wheel?

NTSB footage shows owner entering the driver's door... but... remains inconclusive

Fatal Tesla crash mystery intensifies: Was there a driver behind the wheel?
Ioanna Lykiardopoulou
Story by

Ioanna Lykiardopoulou

Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives. Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives.

A preliminary report released on Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues the mystery over what actually happened to cause the recent fatal Tesla car crash in Texas.

According to the agency, video footage from the car owner’s home shows the owner entering the Model S’ driver’s door, and his companion the passenger side door.

But whether the driver remained behind the wheel during the tragic ride or not… still is unknown.

After traveling approximately 168 meters, the car left the road on a curve, drove over the curb, and hit a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree, NTSB’s report says.

The impact damaged the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery, where the devastating fire started. The fire ruined the onboard storage device located in the Model S’ infotainment console. It also compromised the restraint control module, which stores data related to the car’s speed, acceleration, belt status, and airbag deployment.

Unfortunately, this means that important information required to shed light into the accident can’t be easily – or at all – recovered.

This adds to the overall speculations on whether Autopilot was engaged or not and, therefore, potentially responsible for the crash.

Notably, the NTSB tested a similar Model S on the crash site to determine the Autopilot’s function. The results showed that the Traffic Aware Cruise Control (or Adaptive Cruise Control) system could have been engaged, but that Autosteer wouldn’t work on that part of the road.

This coincides with Tesla VP Lars Moravy’s comments, who admitted that at least one of Autopilot’s features – the same one as indicated by the NTSB – was on before the crash occurred.

The NTSB emphasized that “all aspects of the crash remain under investigation.”


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