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Tesla says self-driving system not to blame for deadly Texas crash

By Don Johnson
A Tesla Motors showroom is seen in Beijing, China, on February 25, 2019. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
1 of 4 | A Tesla Motors showroom is seen in Beijing, China, on February 25, 2019. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 27 (UPI) -- Executives for Tesla Motors are contradicting Texas authorities who said a fiery crash involving a self-driving vehicle that killed two people this month had no one in the driver's seat.

Police said the car was moving at high speed on April 17 when it ran into a tree and caught fire in Spring, Texas. Investigators said two men were in the 2019 Model S -- one in the front and one in the back -- but no one was at the wheel and the vehicle's self-driving system was engaged. Both were killed.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has now said that the autopilot wasn't responsible for the crash, as recovered data logs indicate that it wasn't engaged.

Musk added that the owner didn't buy the full self-driving option, which could have enabled autopilot on local roads.

Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy said company officials inspected the crash and determined that the steering wheel was "deformed," meaning someone was sitting in the driver's seat.

"All seat belts post-crash were found to be unbuckled," he said, noting that the driver assist system only operates when the seat belts are buckled.

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The comments by Musk and Moravy were made in a company earnings call on Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating the crash.

The New York Times reported that the victims' wives heard them talking about the vehicle's autopilot minutes before the crash. The men were identified as Everette Talbot, 69, and William Varner, 59, a prominent local anesthesiologist.

Tesla says the autopilot still requires "active driver supervision" and doesn't "make the vehicle autonomous."

Consumer Reports said following a series of crashes in 2016 that Tesla should disable automatic steering in its vehicles until it "updates the program to verify that the driver's hands are on the wheel."

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