The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is investigating a fatal Tesla Inc Model S crash in Davie, Florida last Sunday that killed the driver and resulted in a massive vehicle fire, the second fatal crash this week the agency is probing.
The agency and the National Transportation Safety Board said late on Friday they are sending teams to investigate the other fatal crash Friday in Delray Beach, Florida of a 2018 Model 3 that crashed into a semi-trailer.
A NHTSA spokesman confirmed Saturday the agency has an “ongoing investigation” into the earlier Tesla crash in Davie and “will take additional actions if appropriate.” Tesla did not immediately comment Saturday.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Monday the 2016 Tesla Model S caught fire and burned the 48-year-old driver beyond recognition. The newspaper said the Tesla battery repeatedly caught fire after being transported to a towing facility.
NHTSA, the auto safety regulator, can demand a recall if it believes a defect poses an unreasonable safety risk, while the NTSB makes safety recommendations.
NHTSA and NTSB have been investigating a number of crashes since 2017 that focus on two primary issues: the role of Tesla’s driver assistance technology Autopilot in accidents and some significant battery fires in the electric vehicles after crashes, including cases of batteries reigniting after accidents.
A report on Friday’s crash released by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department did not indicate if Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash that killed the 50-year-old Tesla Model 3 owner.
The report said the Tesla struck a tractor trailer and the roof was sheared off as it passed underneath the trailer and stopped three-tenths of a mile south of the collision. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
NTSB said it is sending a team of three to conduct a safety investigation, while NHTSA said Saturday it is sending a field team.
Some Tesla drivers say they are able to avoid putting their hands on the wheel for extended periods when using Autopilot, while Tesla advises drivers that they must keep their hands on the steering wheel and pay attention at all times while using Autopilot.
NHTSA is also probing the January 2018 crash of a Tesla vehicle apparently traveling in Autopilot that struck a fire truck in Culver City, California, a May 2018 crash in Utah of a Tesla in Autopilot mode and a May 2018 Tesla accident in Florida that killed two teenagers and injured another but was not in Autopilot mode.
The NTSB is investigating three earlier Tesla incidents being reviewed by NHTSA, as well as an August 2017 Tesla battery fire in California, in which an owner ran the vehicle into his garage.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama