Last month, two people died when the Tesla Model S they were driving veered off the road and crashed into a tree. After colliding with the tree, the vehicle burst into flames. According to a news report released shortly after the accident, it took firefighters four hours and 30,000 gallons of water to put out the fire. A feat that was complicated by the fact that the vehicle’s electric battery continued to re-ignite.
In the initial aftermath of the accident, authorities believed no one was in the driver’s seat when the collision occurred. However, Tesla representatives also inspected the wreckage, and the company immediately disputed the claim that no one was driving. For example, Tesla initially claimed that the preliminary data recovered from the car’s onboard computer system did not indicate that the vehicle was in Autopilot mode. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also noted that this particular Model S was not equipped with “Full Self-Driving Mode,” an optional feature.
In the weeks following the accident, Tesla continues to claim that someone was driving the car at the time of the accident. According to an article released weeks later, a Tesla representative pointed out that all the seatbelts were unbuckled when emergency response crews arrived, explaining that the Autopilot feature does not work unless all seatbelts are worn. Additionally, Tesla claimed that because the vehicle’s steering wheel was “deformed,” it was likely that someone was in the driver’s seat. In response to Tesla’s claim, law enforcement released a statement that they were 100 percent certain that no one was in the driver’s seat.
This is not the first accident involving driverless car technology. According to a report by Reuters, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has opened 27 different investigations following accidents involving Tesla vehicles. Four of those investigations have led to published reports, while 23 are still under investigation.
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