It took firefighters four hours to extinguish the blaze.
While Elon Musk is preparing to roll out a public beta for Tesla's full self-driving beta program, Autopilot still only offers Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. This requires the driver to stay attentive and keep their hands on the wheel to intervene if necessary. Unfortunately, there are still people who ignore this advice and mistake Autopilot for a fully autonomous driving system.
This misconception has caused many crashes over the last few years, resulting in a court ruling banning Autopilot advertising in Germany and numerous investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Sadly, this latest misuse of Autopilot had fatal consequences.
According to KPRC2 Houston, two men aged 59 and 69 were taking a 2019 Tesla Model S out for a test drive in Houston, Texas, last Saturday night. With Autopilot activated, the Model S failed to navigate a turn, careened off the road into some woods, and hit a tree, causing the car to burst into flames. It's not known how fast the Model S was driving, but authorities say it was traveling at "high speed." Tragically, both men died in the accident. Firefighters attempted to extinguish the blaze using 30,000 gallons of water, but the battery continued to burn for four hours. In the end, the firefighters decided to let the fire burn itself out.
When the flames were extinguished, firefighters discovered nobody was sat in the driver's seat: one man was sat in the passenger seat while the other was sat in the back.
"No one was driving," Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told KPRC2 Houston. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the crash and authorities haven't said what caused the fatal accident, but misuse of Tesla's Autopilot is likely to blame.
One of the victim's brother-in-law said the driver took the Model S out for a spin with his best friend, confirming that there were only two people inside the car when the crash happened. He watched the owner back out of the driveway and believes he jumped in the back seat to show off the capabilities of Autopilot before the Model S crashed a few hundred yards down the road. The two men killed in the crash have not been identified.