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U.S. probes fatal Tesla crash believed to be driverless

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Monday it was investigating a Texas crash on Saturday that left two dead and local police said appeared to have occurred with no one in the driver’s seat.

NHTSA said it “has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. 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.”

Tesla had no immediate comment.

The crash occurred as scrutiny is increasing over Tesla’s semi-automated Autopilot driving system following recent crashes.

Autopilot was operating in at least three Tesla vehicles involved in fatal U.S. crashes since 2016.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling at a high speed, when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the roadway, crashing to a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.

After the fire was extinguished, authorities located two occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat while the other was in the back seat of the Tesla, the report said, citing Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman.

Tesla advises drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention while using Autopilot. However, some Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid putting their hands on the wheel for extended periods when using Autopilot.

Last month, NHTSA told Reuters it had opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles, 23 of which remain active, and at least three of the crashes had occurred in recent weeks.

Four of the 27 NHTSA investigations have been completed and the results published.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

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