Police said no one was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.
Lars Moravy, Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering, said on the company’s earnings call Monday that Tesla’s adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 mph before the car crashed.
It’s unclear, however, whether Musk was defining Autopilot in a way that was most beneficial to his company by referring to the entire suite, rather than the individual features that make up the suite.
The process is similar on other Teslas. Drivers engage traffic-aware cruise control on the Model 3 by moving the stalk down and releasing, according to the car’s North American owner’s manual. Moving it down twice quickly turns on Autosteer.
The Tesla that crashed in Texas did not have Autosteer active, Moravy said on Monday’s earning call.
Bryan Reimer, the associate director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, who studies driver assistance systems like Autopilot, said one of the plausible explanations for the crash is that the driver was confused and thought they had activated Autosteer, when only traffic-aware cruise control had been turned on.
“The general understanding of Autopilot is that it’s one feature, but in reality it is two things bolted together,” said Reimer, referring to traffic-aware cruise control and Autosteer.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment and generally does not engage with the professional news media.
Musk fielded a question on the earnings call Monday that claimed the mainstream media has “massive and deceptive clickbait headline campaigns on safety of Autopilot.”
“There was an article regarding a tragedy where there was a high-speed accident in a Tesla. But and there was really just extremely deceptive media practices where it was claimed to be Autopilot when this is completely false,” Musk responded.
Musk did not make clear if he was referring to the Texas crash, or another crash. He referenced a “high-speed” crash, but Moravy later said the Model S in Texas accelerated to 30mph.
Moravy also said it was likely that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash because Tesla found that the steering wheel was “deformed.” He did not explain what he meant by “deformed,” or if that could have occurred in the crash even if a person wasn’t sitting in the drivers’ seat.
The NTSB and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration have both said they are investigating the Texas crash. Moravy said on Monday’s call that Tesla is working with government agencies as they investigate the crash.
Some details of the crash remain unknown. Moravy also said that they were not able to recover data from the SD card at the time of impact, but that local authorities are working on doing that.
Wade Newton, a spokesperson for the AAI said that it is the first time the industry has come together to introduce these types of principles, and declined to say if the Tesla crash impacted the release.