Currently reading: Two killed in crash while reportedly using Tesla Autopilot system
Model S seems to have been in Autopilot mode when it crashed and caught fire in the US

Two men have died after the Tesla Model S in which they were travelling - reportedly in Autopilot mode - failed to navigate a bend, crashed and caught fire in Texas.

While the police have yet to reach any firm conclusions, the evidence so far suggests that “no-one was driving the vehicle at the time of impact,” according to Harris County Precinct 4 constable Mark Herman.

Instead, the men, both in their 50s, were found in passenger seats, implying the car was being operated by Tesla’s ‘self-driving’ function before it careered from the road.

The 2019 Model S then smashed into a tree, causing its lithium ion battery pack to ignite. The emergency services used 105,000 litres of water over four hours to stop it burning.

Tesla’s Autopilot function has long been a point of contention within the car industry. Its name in particular has come under scrutiny, because while it allows Tesla cars to steer, accelerate and brake within lanes on motorways, it's not capable of carrying out a whole journey with no human input.

Last summer, a German court banned Tesla from using the term Autopilot in its marketing and sales material in Germany. It ruled that the term suggested that Teslas “are technically able to drive completely autonomously,” which it described as “misleading for consumers”.

Matthew Avery, research director at safety experts Thatcham Research, described yesterday’s crash as “an incredibly sobering illustration as to why education and correct naming are so important to the safe use of driver assistance systems”.

He continued: “A lack of understanding of system capability is causing confusion around driver responsibility, and accidents like this sadly back that up. System names should not be misleading.”

There have been several previous reported incidents involving both Tesla's Autopilot system and the high-density battery packs used in its cars.

In one high-profile incident, a stationary Model 3 caught fire in a Shanghai car park, prompting Chinese regulators to ask Tesla to improve the build quality of its cars produced in China.

These are also not the first deaths to be linked to Autopilot. In July 2016, a man was killed in Florida while using the feature when both the driver and the Autopilot failed to spot a lorry trailer against a brightly lit sky.

Autocar has contacted Tesla for a response.


Chinese authorities address Tesla safety concerns 

Update: Tesla extends recall to UK Model S and Model X owners 

Tesla releases early ‘Full Self-Driving’ mode with strict warning

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gavsmit 20 April 2021

Reply to Deputy:

We've come a long way since the autopilot in the film Airplane! :D 

But like you say, the examples you give are either a two way system or used by high tech military hardware.

To an everyday person with a limited understanding of such things, the word 'autopilot' to me means something that assists rather than being in full control of an end to end journey.

On that basis, I personally wouldn't climb into the back of a Tesla leaving my friend in the passenger seat whilst relying on something called 'Autopilot' to do all the driving for us - or I'd at least read the instructions and learn about its limitations first!

Peter Cavellini 20 April 2021

Yes, I think there drivers out there who take it as verbatim the meaning of a word, auto pilot, now,by definition it means it's a system that can be activated and take control of whatever, but, you can't not just get up and do something else, you still have to be there just in case, auto land for a plane is relatively straight forward, it's landing on a runway, a straight runway, no bends, no crossroads etc, other than compensating for Weather, that's all auto land has to do,but, again, the pilot has to be there just in case, so, if these two gentlemen weren't doing what your supposed to do, blindly expecting the car to sort it out, it's there fault, not Tesla for mis-describing this auto function.

Deputy 20 April 2021

Reply to @gavsmit as Autocar reply option not working (good thing they don't program vehicle systems!). Autoland in aircraft has been around for decades and is used nearly all the time in thick fog (about 2% of all commercial landings are autoland). So think of that next time you land in fog. Those are 2 way systems of course where the runway communicates with the incoming aircraft.  However the latest F35 fighters and drones can assess terrain and autoland without and land feedback systems.  The F35 even lands on carriers automatically, all the pilot does is press land and push the stick forward once to engage the system! (Hence why no 2 seat F35 trainers are needed)