Two passengers killed as driverless Tesla crashes at speed and bursts into flame

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 (via REUTERS)

Two passengers were killed when a Tesla with no one in the driver’s seat veered off-road and crashed into a tree at high speed, authorities in Texas said today.

A police officer told television stations in Houston that one of the victims of the crash on Saturday night was in the front passenger seat while the second was on the back seat.

Harris County precinct Constable Mark Herman said authorities are certain that no one was driving the 2019 Tesla Model S at the time of the crash.

"They feel very confident just with the positioning of the bodies after the impact that there was no one driving that vehicle," Herman told KHOU-TV.

Deputies said the car was traveling fast and failed to navigate a turn before running off the road, hitting a tree, and bursting into flames.

The identity of the victims has not been released. KHOU reported that one was 69 and the other was 59.

Tesla did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Traffic safety officials are investigating several Tesla crashes in which the vehicle's Autopilot function may have been used.

The company warns customers that its driver-assist system, called Autopilot, is not an autonomous-driving program, and that they must pay attention and be ready to take control of the vehicle.

However, the National Transportation Safety Board said last year that the design of the system allows drivers to avoid paying attention and fails to limit where Autopilot can be used.

KPRC-TV reported that a brother-in-law of one of the victims said it took four hours to extinguish the blaze.

Authorities said the vehicle's batteries repeatedly reignited, and Herman said that deputies called Tesla to ask how to put out the fire. Tesla publishes information for first responders, including the location of high-voltage lines.

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