NTSB investigators detail what they are looking for in Tesla crash

Detectives say no one was in the driver's seat

THE WOODLANDS – A deadly Tesla crash near the Woodlands continues to make national headlines and raise questions.

Two federal agencies are now investigating the Saturday single-car accident, in which local investigators believe no one was behind the wheel when it hit a tree.

“We are looking at two specific areas within the crash,” said Chris O’Neil with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB sent two investigators to the crash in The Woodlands. The National Highway Safety Administration also has investigators in town.

Dr. William Varner, an anesthesiologist who worked at Memorial Hermann Woodlands, died in the accident along with his friend who has not yet been identified. According to investigators, one of the men was found in the front passenger’s seat and the other in the back seat.

‘No one was driving the car’: 2 men dead after fiery Tesla crash near The Woodlands, officials say

“Based on the reports that we have at this time, it could possibly involve an advanced driver assistance technology which is an area the NTSB has an interest in,” said O’Neil.

Monday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that recovered logs show the car’s autopilot was never enabled. This raises many questions about how that could be possible if no one was found in the driver’s seat.

Earlier this year, the NTSB issued safety recommendations in its electric vehicle report. It included a recommendation for the National Highway Safety Administration.

“It’s for NHTSA to have a more robust regulatory structure as advanced driving assistance systems are introduced onto our highways. There needs to be a nationwide standard for the testing and for the implantation of these technologies as they become more robust and become more available on U.S roads,” said O’Neil.

Tesla’s lithium-ion battery is another reason the NTSB is investigating.

According to the Woodlands Fire Department, it took just a few minutes to put out the fire, but the firefighters had to use 30,000 gallons of water to keep the battery cool.

“Lithium-ion batteries that have thermal events can produce tremendous amounts of heat and it requires the application of cooling agents in a very specific manner,” said O’Neil.

In a report issued a few months ago, the NTSB recommended that companies that manufacture cars with lithium-ion batteries better inform first responders on how to deal with car fires.

“We’ve received a response to our recommendation from Tesla and that response is being evaluated for its thoroughness, but we do know that Tesla has taken steps to improve the guides it provides first responders,” said O’Neil.

In fact, Woodlands Fire Dept. Chief Palmer Buck, who was at the scene of the Saturday crash, said they used Tesla’s guide in order to put out the fire.

“Tesla has provided an emergency guide for first responders and it talks very specifically that you have to use a large amount of water to slow this down and it can burn for a bit,” said Chief Buck. “Everything that we expected happened, happened, but certainly a new challenge for the fire service to deal with lithium-ion batteries and electric cars, but we have been studying that and working on that for five years.”

The NTSB says it is currently investigating two crashes involving Tesla vehicles. That includes the crash near the Woodlands.

The investigation could take up to two years.