Elon Musk claims driver in 2022 Tesla crash did not have Full Self-Driving

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SAN FRANCISCO — Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a company executive claimed in separate tweets on X on Wednesday that a Tesla employee who died in a fiery 2022 crash was not using the most advanced version of the company’s driver-assistance software, challenging a Washington Post report about the incident.

In a brief tweet, Musk said: “He was not on FSD. The software had unfortunately never been downloaded. I say ‘unfortunately’, because the accident probably would not have happened if FSD had been engaged.”

The tweet referred to a Post story published Tuesday about Hans von Ohain, a Tesla recruiter who had purchased a car with Full Self-Driving capabilities. Evidence suggests that von Ohain was using the feature when his Tesla Model 3 barreled into a tree and exploded in flames — which, if true, would make him the first documented fatality linked to Full Self-Driving, The Post reported. Von Ohain’s purchase order shows the car was equipped with enhanced features available only to Tesla customers who purchase Full Self-Driving, such as the ability to recognize and react to stop signs and traffic lights.

Tesla worker killed in fiery crash may be first ‘Full Self-Driving’ fatality

In a tweet on Wednesday, Rohan Patel, Tesla’s policy chief, said specifically that an “FSD beta software” package “was not downloaded onto the car.” FSD beta is the company’s most advanced version of driver assistance that Musk has touted as a revolutionary leap forward, ushering in an age of autonomy in private vehicles. The new software, which gives the car the ability to follow turn-by-turn directions on surface streets, was released less than two years before the crash but required company approval to download; it’s unclear whether von Ohain had that approval.

Tesla employees who asked typically were given access to the new software, according to a former company employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday for fear of retribution.

The tweets were the first time any Tesla official has publicly discussed the crash. Neither Musk nor the company had responded to multiple requests for comment over the past few weeks, and they did not provide further details or answer questions Wednesday. Tesla is uniquely positioned to confirm to the public and regulators which software the car was running.

The information the company has provided about the crash has been unclear. For example, while Tesla reported the crash to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as involving driver-assistance software, NHTSA allows the company to redact key information that would shed light on what features were engaged at the time of the crash. NHTSA told The Post that the role of Full Self-Driving was unknown, and that evidence to confirm whether the software was engaged had been destroyed in the crash.

Von Ohain was legally intoxicated when he died in Evergreen, Colo., after spending the day at a golf course with a friend. In addition to investigating the case as a drunken-driving incident, Colorado state investigators sought to understand what role the technology may have played in causing the car to suddenly veer off the road, but the investigation was inconclusive: Tesla said it could not confirm that driver-assistance technology had been in use because it “did not receive data over-the-air for this incident.”

A passenger who survived the crash told emergency responders that von Ohain was using an “auto-drive feature on the Tesla” that “just ran straight off the road.” The passenger, whose blood alcohol level was similar to von Ohain’s, told The Post that von Ohain used Full Self-Driving earlier in the day, and that he believes the feature was engaged at the time of the crash.

Patel tweeted Wednesday that the company has “no data/evidence that any system was or was not enabled and have cooperated with authorities fully, as we always do.” Patel also tweeted that “Tesla reported the incident [to NHTSA] on the basis of unverified allegations that were made in a Vehicle Owner Questionnaire submitted to the agency,” a form that allows consumers to submit complaints about safety defects.

Over the course of two weeks, The Post sent Musk and Tesla multiple requests for comment, requesting any additional insight into this crash, including internal data that would shed light on whether Full Self-Driving was active on the car. Neither responded.

The final 11 seconds of a fatal Tesla Autopilot crash

As part of its reporting, The Post obtained vehicle records showing “Full Self-Driving Capability” as “Active” and “Included” with the car, and a recent message from the company offering von Ohain’s account the ability to “Transfer Your Full Self-Driving Capability to a New Tesla.”

Nora Bass, von Ohain’s widow, said he used Full Self-Driving “anywhere we went,” including in suburban neighborhoods and in dense urban areas like downtown Denver.

In interviews with The Post, two of von Ohain’s friends said he was quick to demonstrate what he called the car’s “Full Self-Driving” as he showed his enthusiasm for the software package and the company he worked for.

“I vividly remember the sensation of trusting Hans’s car with the FSD feature enabled, especially during a steep curve,” said Jon Gomez, a friend of von Ohain’s from the Marine Corps Reserves.

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