The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is opening an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla that authorities say was operating with no one behind the wheel, which left two men dead on late Saturday evening outside of Houston.
The 2019 Tesla Model S went off the road after it failed to negotiate a slight curve, local CBS-affiliate KHOU-TV reported. Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told local reporters that the accident was unprecedented.
“Our office has never experienced a crash scene like this,” he said. “Normally, when the fire dept arrives, they have a vehicle fire under control in minutes, but this went on for close to four hours.” The long burn time was reportedly due to the electric vehicle batteries repeatedly reigniting.
More than 30,000 gallons of water were used to put out the fire. One of the victims was in the front passenger seat and the other was in the backseat, “and at the time of the accident there was no one in the [driver’s] seat,” Herman said.
Earlier on the day of the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk retweeted news that the company released its first-quarter 2021 safety report. “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle,” he said. Tesla describes its Autopilot as a “suite of driver assistance features” and states that it requires “active driver supervision.”
“NHTSA is aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “NHTSA has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information.”
TechCrunch reached out to Tesla for comment and will update the story if the company responds.