US investigations target Tesla after apparently driverless crash

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Two US transportation security agencies said on Monday that they had launched investigations into the fatal crash in Texas of a Tesla in which there was apparently no one behind the wheel.

The vehicle was traveling at high speed when it crashed into a tree in Spring, near Houston on Saturday night, and caught fire, destroying it entirely. Initial evidence from the preliminary investigation by local police shows that no one was driving the vehicle, Harris County Police official Mark Herman told local media. According to him, the authorities only found traces indicating that two individuals were present in the car, one in the passenger seat and the other in the back seat.

The US road safety agency, NHTSA, “immediately launched a special investigation team,” according to a message sent to Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday. “We are actively discussing with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate action when we have more information,” NHTSA added.

Read also: Tesla urged to recall 158,000 cars in US over defect

The National Bureau of Transportation and Safety of the United States (NTSB) for its part indicated on Twitter that it had sent two investigators to the scene. They will focus their research “on the operation of the vehicle and the fire that followed the collision”.

Debate relaunched on the “Autopilot” software

Local investigators had not yet determined on Sunday whether the driver’s seat airbag had deployed and whether the vehicle’s driver assistance system was engaged at the time of the collision.

The circumstances of the accident have sparked many reactions on social networks, relaunching the debate on the semi-autonomy capabilities existing in Tesla, that is to say the software “Autopilot”, which allows the car to park “alone” or adapt the navigation on the motorway.

Some people may buy a more expensive version, dubbed “FSD”, for “full self-driving”, for “complete autonomous driving”, even if the driver is not supposed to let go of the wheel.

Another accident in 2016: Fatal Tesla crash casts shadow over self-driving cars

“At this point, the driving data collected shows that the ‘Autopilot’ was not activated and that this car had not bought the FSD”, reacted Elon Musk, the tempestuous boss of Tesla, on Twitter Monday. “In addition, the standard Autopilot needs lane demarcation lines on the road to be activated and this street did not have any,” he added, responding to an article in the the Wall Street newspaper which mentioned the doubts of many experts about the potentially risky addition of these features to misleading names.

A technology touted by Elon Musk

On its website, Tesla warns that these driving assistance systems do not make the vehicle autonomous and that the active supervision of a driver remains necessary. However, his boss Elon Musk regularly praises the advances made by his group on driver assistance technologies.

Also read: Tesla wins his race against time

A few hours before the incident on Saturday, he referred on Twitter to a quarterly count made by the group, commenting: “Tesla driving with” Autopilot “engaged are now nearly ten times less likely to have an accident than a vehicle normal.”