The United States National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report provided the most detailed account to date of the accident, but did not answer a key question: When did the driver of the car come from? steering wheel in the back seat?
The owner of a Tesla Inc. Model S that crashed into a tree last month, who died with a passenger, was driving when the car left his home shortly before the crash.
A home surveillance camera captured the owner entering the driver’s seat before the car slowly pulled away and accelerated, the United States National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday in a preliminary report.
Police in the Houston suburbs initially said it appeared no one was behind the wheel. The driver’s body was found in the back seat and another person was sitting in the passenger seat after a fire.
While the NTSB did not specifically state whether the driver was still driving the car, the preliminary report at least suggests it was possible, reinforcing Tesla’s claims that Autopilot, its driver assistance technology, was not. not engaged before the accident.
The car’s automated steering system does not appear to have been turned on, investigators said. An NTSB test of a similar vehicle showed that other automated driving functions could have been activated, but not the so-called Autosteer.
William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot, 69, died when the Model S hit a tree and caught fire in The Woodlands, an affluent neighborhood in greater Houston. The fatal accident received enormous attention.
Lars Moravy, Tesla’s vice president of automotive engineering, said on the company’s latest earnings call that the steering wheel was “warped,” which led to the likelihood that someone was in the seat of the driver at the time of the accident.
The NTSB preliminary report provided the most detailed account to date of the crash, but did not answer a key question: When did the driver of the car shift from the back of the steering wheel to the back seat?
The home security camera captured the crash, the NTSB said. “The car pulls away and travels about 550 feet before pulling off the road on a bend, crossing the sidewalk and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole and a tree,” the NTSB said in the report.
The impact damaged the front of the vehicle’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery, where the fire started, the NTSB said. Lithium batteries are highly flammable and difficult to extinguish, and the safety council has investigated the risk of battery fires for more than a decade.
An electronic system that activates the car’s airbags has been badly damaged. The device can provide information on speed, acceleration, seat belt condition and other data. The NTSB took the device to its Washington lab to attempt to extract the data.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Moravy did not respond to the emails.
The NTSB said it would continue to analyze crash dynamics, including “the results of post-mortem toxicology tests, seat belt use, occupant egress and electric vehicle fires.”