A fiery early morning crash in Indianapolis on November 3 has left two people dead. They were riding in a 2015 Tesla travelling at a high rate of speed when the driver lost control. The car crashed into a tree then struck a parking garage. The woman driving was killed in the crash. A male passenger died later at the hospital. The car was consumed by fire when rescue workers arrived.
Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith said “The impact of the crash disintegrated the car leaving a debris field over 150 yards long. Firefighters arrived and had to contend with the car fire and multiple fires in the road left by the small batteries and magnesium strewn about.”
Is this news? 17 gasoline powered cars catch fire every hour in the United States but we seldom hear about them. Whether it’s fair or not, anything a Tesla does is considered newsworthy. Part of the blame for that rests with Elon Musk, the flamboyant Tesla CEO who has raised getting free publicity for his company to an art form. Live by the sword, die by the sword, Elon.
According to WISH Channel 8 News, Alfred Finnell Jr. saw what happened. He said the vehicle was speeding down the road before it crashed and exploded. “There was one big explosion first, then there were several little small ones and debris just kept popping up in the air like somebody was at a fireworks display or something,” Finnell Jr. said.
The witness said he had to drive defensively to avoid the pieces of the car that were falling all around him. He described the scene as being “something out of a war zone.” Here is a link to a video posted to the WISH TV website and taken by Mark Bates. Warning: some viewers may find the images in this video disturbing. http://wishtv.com/2016/11/03/2-killed-in-fiery-explosive-crash/
Electric cars present special hazards for emergency workers and fire fighters, who not only have to contend with high voltage when trying to extricate victims from inside but also the possibility of fire if the battery overheats or ruptures. Often firefighters need to smother an electrical fire with dry chemicals rather than putting it out with water.
Of course, every time a Tesla crashes people wonder if its self driving Autopilot system was to blame. We are fascinated by the idea of machines running amok and failing to do what they are supposed to do. Based on the details we know about this accident, it is far more likely that driver error is the culprit, not some computer malfunction.
The car was heavily damaged in the crash, which may make it impossible to recover data from the car, information that would tell investigators about the speed of the car at the time of the accident and whether any self driving systems were active at the time.
What may be a topic of concern to some as a result of this crash is the amount of damage done to the Tesla’s battery pack by the collision. Having individual battery cells scattered all over the pavement — some on fire — is not a comforting thought. Toyota announced just this week that it is finally convinced lithium ion batteries are safe for use in its cars. Koji Toyoshima, the chief engineer for the company’s Prius cars says, “We have double braced and triple braced our battery pack to make sure they’re fail-safe … It’s all about safety, safety, safety.”
Has Tesla done everything it can to keep the battery pack in its cars from disintegrating upon impact? Based on how the Tesla battery in this instance was torn apart by the force of the impact, that may be a topic investigators should consider.
Photo credit: Indianapolis Fire Department