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Tesla’s Autopilot Tricked Into Operating Without Driver or a Fault in the System? What Caused the Crash?

2015 was the year that marked Tesla’s rollout of their Autopilot feature. Needless to say, the hype it created was unmatchable, and the automotive world moved significantly closer to fully autonomous self-driving vehicles. The past 6 years have seen nothing but complete excitement and anticipation for these cars.

That is, until the recent Tesla crash in the Houston area.

Two men lost their lives late on Saturday after their Tesla Model S sedan swerved off the road and hit a tree. The crash prompted a battery fire that lasted for hours. It took 30,000 gallons of water and 4 consecutive hours to put it out.

KPRC2 Houston | By the time the first responders arrived, the car had been burnt beyond recognition

Unusual, To Say the Least

Strangely, authorities report the driver’s seat being empty at the time of the crash, with one person in the passenger’s seat and one in the backseat. First responders to the accident state that the vehicle was unable to slow down and turn at a curve. Instead, it went straight and hit the tree at high speed, although the exact speed is still uncertain at this point. First responders also don’t know if the passengers attempted to break at any point.

Unsplash | Teslas Autopilot feature doesn’t work unless there’s constant contact between the driver and the steering wheel

Circumstances and the passenger’s seating arrangements suggest that they might have been using Tesla’s Full Self-Driving or Autopilot systems. Reports give no indication of the involvement of a third person or that the one victim might have been in the driver’s seat and pushed back due to the impact. Harris County Precinct 4’s Constable Mark Herman of states that due to the accident and physical evidence scene, they are confident that no one was in the driver’s seat at the time of the accident.

How True Is This?

It is noteworthy that Tesla’s Autopilot system disengages when the is no contact with the steering wheel. This means that without regular steering input, the Autopilot would fail to work. Of course, there are ways to trick the system by taping weights to the wheel, showing that there is contact. This can be the only explanation for the driver being in the rear seat with the car on Autopilot mode.

Twitter | Elon Musk fires at WSJ professionals, stating that an individual on Twitter is smarter than they are

According to Elon Musk’s tweets, data logs reveal that the car didn’t have the Autopilot feature enabled, and neither had the owner purchased FSD. He goes on to state that Autopilot requires lanes to work, which the street didn’t have. Hence, the company believes that something else caused the crash, not their Autopilot feature.

Bottom Line

Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will be investigating this accident. Until they produce their final reports, it’s best not to play blame games against the victims or Tesla.

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