Two men are dead after a Tesla Model S ran off the road and struck a tree in Texas—an incident that is garnering national attention because authorities believe neither man was behind the wheel of the Model S at the time of the crash. After impact, the vehicle was engulfed in flames and took more than 30,000 gallons of water to put out.
The incident occurred late yesterday in Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston. According to Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, who spoke with Houston television station KPRC 2, the police investigation is still ongoing, but so far has shown that neither man was behind the wheel, with one of the men in the passenger seat and the other behind him in the rear passenger seat of the Model S at the time of the crash. The identities of the men have not yet been released.
Tesla vehicles are equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot capabilities, and authorities are still investigating the exact circumstances of the crash. The car was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed when it lost control on a curve, struck a tree, and immediately burst into flames.
Firefighters reportedly battled to put out the burning car for hours as the vehicle’s batteries continued to ignite, an issue that can occur with all-electric vehicles when the battery pack catches fire and spreads to the pack’s separate cells that may still store energy. At one point Herman told KPRC 2 that deputies had called Tesla for guidance on how to put out the fire. Tesla has said in the past that in the event of a persistent fire to let it burn out. Very little was left of what was reportedly a 2019 Model S once the fire was out.
Autopilot and other systems such as General Motors Super Cruise are not fully autonomous systems, but rather driver assist features. Tesla CEO Elon Musk himself has warned in the past of drivers becoming too complacent, which can lead to inattention and crashes.
Tesla no longer has a public relations team to field any questions about the crash. Musk’s most recent Twitter post retweeted Tesla’s own report posted by Tesla Owners Online that Teslas with Autopilot engaged are approaching ten times fewer crashes than cars without it.