Deadly Texas crash involving Tesla worth $80,000 sparks 4-hour fire

Officials believe the Tesla vehicle may have been operating on Autopilot

Authorities near Houston, Texas are investigating a horrifying and deadly crash scene involving what deputies believe was a driverless Tesla on Autopilot that sparked a raging four hour fire, killing two people inside. 

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Deputies say that a fully-electric 2019 Tesla Model S, worth about $80,000, was traveling along a curve at a high rate of speed before crashing into a tree at around 11:25 p.m. Saturday night in the Carlton Woods subdivision near The Woodlands.

Officials believe the Tesla may have been operating on Autopilot, noting that one of the individuals was found in the passenger seat while the other was found in the back seat.

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According to KPRC 2, the brother-in-law of one of the victims said the men were taking the car out for a spin, and that the driver was seen backing out of the driveway and may have hopped in the back seat before the crash. 

A sheriff's department spokesperson said the vehicle immediately burst into flames following the crash, and that local firefighters worked for four hours to put out the blaze, which required 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish. 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. 

Officials are still reportedly investigating whether the front passenger air bag deployed and whether the vehicle's advanced driver-assistance system was enabled at the time of the crash and will conduct autopsies on the two men.  

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The incident comes as Tesla released its accident data for the first quarter of 2021. 

CEO Elon Musk claimed that Tesla vehicles with Autopilot engaged are now approaching a 10 times lower chance of an accident than the average vehicle. 

In the first quarter of 2021, the company registered one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven with Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with the Tesla's active safety features, the company registered one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven. As for those driving without Autopilot or active safety features, the company registered one accident for every 978,000 miles driven. 

In comparison, the most recent data from the National Highway Transportation Security Administration, the auto industry's top safety regulator, finds that there is an automobile crash in the United States every 484,000 miles. 

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Tesla notes that the Model S, Model X and Model 3 have all achieved the lowest overall probability of injury of any vehicle tested by the federal government's new car assessment program. 

"Much of this has to do with the rigid, fortified structure of the battery pack that is mounted to a car’s floor, which provides a vehicle with exceptional strength, large crumple zones, and a uniquely low center of gravity," the company said in a statement. "Because of their strength, Tesla’s battery packs rarely incur serious damage in accidents. And, in the extremely unlikely event that a fire occurs, the state-of-the-art design of our battery packs ensures that its safety system works as intended and isolates a fire to select areas within the battery while simultaneously venting heat away from the passenger cabin and the vehicle."

However, Tesla also warns in a support page on its website that its 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."

"While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous," Tesla added.

Tesla has also previously provided first responders with guidance on how to deal with emergency situations related to its vehicles. 

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The NHTSA told FOX Business in a statement that it is "aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas" and has deployed a team to investigate. 

"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," the agency added.

Reuters reported last month that the NHTSA opened 27 investigations into crashes related to Tesla vehicles, 23 of which remain active. 

Representatives for Tesla did not immediately return FOX Business' requests for comment.