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Featured image: Screenshot from Tesla's shareholder meeting in late 2020 showing an Autopilot slide.

Autonomous Vehicles

How Many News Orgs & Tesla Critics Will Now Share That Autopilot Was Not On In Houston Tesla Crash?

I saw it again yesterday — a major media outlet (a major tech outlet even) was writing a story about Elon Musk and Tesla and added the false information that the Tesla Model S P100DL that recently crashed in Houston, resulting in the death of two men in the car, was on Autopilot. It was not. Elon Musk tweeted that it was not. He said it was not while on the quarterly conference call this week. And Lars Moravy, VP of Engineering for Tesla, went into detail about doing tests on the site with regulators after the fact to show what was possible and what was not. In short, Autopilot could not have been on and Tesla’s records showed it was not on.

The story is no less sad. The most likely thing that happened is the owner wanted to show off the ludicrous acceleration of the fully loaded, top-end Model S he had recently bought used*, but the demonstration went awry when whoever was driving couldn’t control the vehicle and took it off the road at a high speed into a tree. Perhaps drinks were involved, too — it was late on a Saturday evening, almost midnight. (*CleanTechnica‘s Jennifer Sensiba got the VIN number from the police department, and after some sleuthing found that the Model S P100DL was just sold on eBay at the end of 2020, presumably to one of the people in the car on Saturday night.)

Again, that’s all sad, and I would say that it is without a doubt due in part to the hype around quickly accelerating cars, and Tesla’s Ludicrous Mode option in particular. It can be hard to handle a car that accelerates that quickly, and too many people push the limits too far beyond what they are able to control. Also, as everyone knows, poor judgement kicks in with a bit of alcohol, and I do assume that was at play despite no mention of it to date.

But what is a shame as well is how much critics and media outlets have blamed or associated Tesla Autopilot in this crash. This will push more people to dislike Tesla and avoid or delay going electric. It is gross professional negligence and some might even argue slander to so vehemently claim that the cause of this crash was Tesla Autopilot. It was splashed across headlines and social media posts, and it continues to be mentioned in articles from major media outlets and prominent figures on Twitter despite the fact that Autopilot had nothing to do with this crash. As I noted at the top, I was reading an article about a different Tesla matter in a major tech outlet last night and saw them mention this crash and blame it on Autopilot. If anyone should be aware of what happened at this point, it should be a tech journalist.

Are any of these sanctimonious Tesla critics going to publish big headlines retracting their false statements? Are any of them going to show any sign of humility or remorse that they smeared a technology that saves lives, and that they did so due to having the facts wrong and assuming too much? Are they going to just jump to the wrong conclusions again the next time there’s a Tesla accident and someone falsely ropes in Autopilot or Tesla FSD?

Many of us Tesla owners got out there quickly on Sunday and Monday to explain that the claims that Autopilot was involved were wrong. That didn’t make any sense given the circumstances. It just wasn’t technically feasible given the facts of the case. Many of us were identified as crazy Tesla stans and illogical defenders of the company for doing so. In actuality, we could see misinformation sprouting up that would likely cause misunderstandings for days, weeks, months, or even years, so we were trying to stop the spread of misinformation before it got out of hand. But, of course, the false assumption from the cop was deemed as irrefutable (cops always have their facts straights and always make the right assumptions) and we were ignored and ridiculed. People on the right and the left took that approach — because it’s apparently now popular across cultural and political lines to beat up on Tesla. Will anyone now apologize and correct their false claims? Will the people who jumped to conclusions and ignored Tesla owners at least try to avoid that mistake in the future?

One can dream.


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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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