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NTSB releases preliminary report on fatal Tesla crash in Spring, Texas

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Key Points
  • The crash garnered national attention after local police told Houston-metro area reporters that their investigators believed nobody was in the driver's seat at the time of the collision.
  • The NTSB has not yet concluded what caused the crash or whether the driver misused advanced driver-assistance features on the 2019 Tesla Model S.
  • However, the NTSB in tests on the same stretch of road did find it was unable to engage one feature of the Autopilot system known as "Autosteer," which helps a car stay centered within a lane.

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A Tesla logo on a Model S is photographed inside of a Tesla dealership in New York.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates accidents, has released records from a preliminary probe of a fatal Tesla crash that took place in Spring, Texas, in April.
However, it has not yet reached a conclusion about what caused the crash or whether the driver misused advanced driver-assistance features on the car.

The vehicle veered off a road, hit a tree and caught fire, killing both occupants. The crash garnered national attention after local police told Houston-metro area reporters that their investigators believed nobody was in the driver's seat at the time of the collision.

As CNBC previously reported, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the automaker's vice president of vehicle engineering, Lars Moravy, disputed the possibility that their cars' advanced driver-assistance system, marketed as Autopilot, could have caused the crash.

In a preliminary report published Monday, the NTSB wrote that home surveillance video shows the driver and his friend getting into the driver's seat and front passenger's seat of the 2019 Model S sedan and then heading down the road.

VIDEO2:3102:31
Tesla CEO Elon Musk says Autopilot was not enabled in fatal Texas crash

The Tesla was equipped with Autopilot, the feds wrote in their preliminary report. However, in test drives that the NTSB conducted using 2019 Model S Tesla vehicles on the same road where the crash occurred, the agency could not engage one feature of the Autopilot system known as "Autosteer," which helps a car stay centered within a lane.

"[Two] NTSB tests of an exemplar car at the crash location showed that Traffic Aware Cruise Control could be engaged but that Autosteer was not available on that part of the road," the report says.

According to an NTSB spokesperson, Tesla told the federal office that the test vehicles they were using had the exact same software version as the one that crashed.

"The NTSB continues to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress, and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation as the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes."

According to an NTSB spokesperson, fatal crash investigations and other major probes generally take between 12 and 24 months to complete.