By Paul Lienert
(Reuters) – Investigators found a laptop computer in the Tesla <TSLA.O> Model S sedan involved in a fatal crash in May while running on autopilot, Florida investigators said on Thursday, leaving it unclear whether the driver was distracted at the time.
Neither the laptop nor a DVD player also found in the vehicle was running after the crash, said Sergeant Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol. Montes said investigators could not determine whether the driver was operating either at the time of the accident.
The car was equipped with a computer stand, but the laptop was not mounted on the stand when investigators recovered the laptop, Montes said.
Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, was the lone occupant of the vehicle and was killed in a collision with a truck near Williston, Florida, on May 7. Tesla has said the car’s semi-automated autopilot system was on when the car crashed.
Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts last week about whether the DVD player was showing a movie.
It could be weeks if not months before officials make a final determination of the cause of the crash, the first known fatality of a Model S driver while using Autopilot. The accident has opened debate about whether drivers were being lulled into a false sense of security by such technology.
The Tesla Autopilot system allows the car to keep itself in a lane, maintain speed and operate for a limited time without a driver doing the steering.
The automaker said in a statement last week that the system “does not turn a Tesla into an autonomous vehicle and does not allow the driver to abdicate responsibility.”
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)