WASHINGTON — Texas police will serve search warrants on Tesla Inc on Tuesday to secure data from a vehicle that crashed on the weekend, killing two people, a senior officer told Reuters on Monday.
Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4, said evidence including witness statements clearly suggested there was nobody in the driver’s seat of the Model S when it crashed into a tree on Saturday night.
Herman said a tweet by Tesla Chief Elon Musk on Monday afternoon saying that data logs retrieved so far indicated the car’s autopilot was not engaged was the first officials had heard from the company.
“If he is tweeting that out, if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that,” Herman told Reuters. “We will eagerly wait for that data.”
“We have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself,” Herman added.
The crash is being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates vehicle safety, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
In his tweet, Musk rejected the idea vehicle’s driving software was to blame: “Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD,” in a reference to Full Self-Driving, Tesla’s semi-automated driver assistance system that requires driver supervision.
Musk added that “standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have.”
The 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling at high-speed near Houston when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the road, crashing into a tree and bursting into flames, Herman said.
Authorities found the bodies of two people in the car, one in the front passenger seat and the other in the backseat, he added.
Just hours before the crash, Musk had tweeted: “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle.”
‘Shouldn’t Be A Death Risk’
The crash occurred amid increased scrutiny of Tesla’s semi-automated Autopilot driving system. Autopilot was operating in at least three Tesla vehicles involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016.
Last month, the NHTSA told Reuters it had opened 27 special investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles, 23 of which remain active, in crashes believed to have been tied to Autopilot use.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Its shares closed down 3.4% Monday before picking up 1.5% in after hours trading.
Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention while using Autopilot. However, some Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid putting their hands on the wheel for extended periods when using Autopilot.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that “using Tesla’s driverless system — or any other — shouldn’t be a death risk. Advancements in driving technology must first & foremost be safe.”
The NTSB, which makes safety recommendations but cannot compel recalls, said it would send two people to conduct a safety investigation into the Texas crash focusing “on the vehicle’s operation and the post-crash fire.”
The NTSB has criticized NHTSA’s approach to oversight of automated vehicles as “misguided, because it essentially relies on waiting for problems to occur rather than addressingsafety issues proactively.” It added NHTSA has “taken a nonregulatory approach to automated vehicle safety.”
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