When a company like Elon Musk’s Tesla gradually introduces technology that could radically change American life, it’s inevitable any incident involving that technology would immediately become newsworthy.
Unfortunately, such an incident happened Sunday near Houston.
According to Fox Business, around 11:25 p.m. Saturday, a 2019 Tesla Model S carrying two people was likely traveling at a high speed around a curve before it smashed into a tree. Both passengers in the car were killed.
Deputies are on a Major crash near hammock dunes place /thornblade circle. Avoid the area and expect delays.
— Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4 (@Pct4Constable) April 18, 2021
Local deputies believe the car was operating using Tesla’s unique self-driving feature, as no one was sitting in the driver’s seat when the victims were discovered.
A sheriff’s department spokesperson said the crash caused the Tesla to instantly burst into flames. The fire lasted four hours and required 32,000 gallons of water to put out.
“At one point, responding deputies had to call Tesla at one point to ask them how to put out the fire in the battery, which kept reigniting,” Fox Business reported.
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Authorities are still investigating whether the advanced driver-assistance feature was in use at the time of the crash.
The incident immediately sparked a social media firestorm, with many in the Twitterverse indicating they would never even consider purchasing a self-driving car:
These cars are meant to have a driver in the seat. That you got people dumb enough to not be in the driver seat was the core problem. The other problem being that a Tesla is a death trap. Why did it take 4 hours to put out a car fire? That’s insane.
— John Smith (@JS_717) April 19, 2021
Never ever get me in any driverless car.
— marybl (@marybl62) April 19, 2021
Who in gods name would get into a driverless car, madness
— Stewart Lopez (@StewartLopez14) April 19, 2021
However, other users defended Tesla, arguing the accident was an isolated incident and the vehicles are extremely safe:
Yes, I understand: real people are so much better…are they?https://t.co/9T1iJ9seLl
— Dr Marco-Vaccinated-Mapo, PhD (@Mapolino) April 19, 2021
It has been. Thoroughly. The owner decided to pretend he had a chauffeur instead of sitting in the driver’s seat as you’re supposed to, and unfortunately suffered the consequences.
— Seven Opossums ☮️♥️🗑️ (@SevenOpossums) April 19, 2021
Tesla’s defenders do have a point. According to Tesla’s website, “the advanced architecture of Model S and Model X” was found “by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to have the lowest and second lowest probabilities of injury of all cars ever tested.”
In addition, Tesla found in the first quarter of 2021 that its cars “registered one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven.
“For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 978 thousand miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles,” the company reported.
Further, Tesla’s self-driving functionality is intended to be used with someone in the driver’s seat at all times, ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
“Autopilot and full self-driving capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” the Tesla website said.
However, all the positive safety data in the world couldn’t make me get inside a driverless car. Sure, I’ve taken plenty of trains that are entirely automated. But trains run on a set track and don’t have to compete with thousands of other unscheduled, unpredictable trains.
Am I being irrational? Quite possibly. But I like the control I feel when I drive a car, and until automated cars make me feel comfortable and in control, I won’t buy one. I don’t trust technology or other drivers enough not to be the one in command.
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