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Two dead in Tesla crash in Texas that was believed to be driverless

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(Reuters) -Two men died after a Tesla vehicle, which was believed to be operating without anyone in the driver's seat, crashed into a tree on Saturday night north of Houston, authorities said.

“There was no one in the driver’s seat," Sgt. Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 said.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was traveling at a high rate of speed, when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the roadway, crashing to a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.

After the fire was extinguished, authorities located 2 occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat while the other was in the back seat of the Tesla, the report said, citing Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman.

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The accident comes amid growing scrutiny over Tesla's semi-automated driving system following recent accidents and as it is preparing to launch its updated "full self-driving" software to more customers.

The U.S. auto safety agency said in March it has opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles; at least three of the crashes occurred recently.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in January that he expects huge profits from its full self-driving software, saying he is "highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year."

The self-driving technology must overcome safety and regulatory hurdles to achieve commercial success.

Umanzor said the two crash victims were born in 1962 and 1951.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Berkeley, California and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by David Shephardson in Washington)