Tesla Model S Crashes and Burns; Reportedly Non-Functioning Door Handles Fatally Trap the Driver Inside
This is much, much worse than the frozen door handles on the Model 3by Michael Fira, on LISTEN 06:20
A Tesla Model S collided with a tree on Sunday in Davie, Florida. The car was soon engulfed in flames and, because the automatic door handles appear to have seized, the driver was trapped in his car and was killed. Reports have emerged telling that, like in the case of other crashed Teslas, the wrecked Model S caught fire again this morning with the source being traced back to the battery.
It’s unclear at the moment how the accident happened, but witnesses at the scene told press that they couldn’t get the driver out because the automatically deploying door handles remained stuck in place. What’s more, an officer that happened to be in the vicinity of Flamingo Road where the incident took place was also unable to break the car’s window and evacuate the driver. This could be a harrowing precedent for Tesla.
It Isn’t the First Time a Tesla Acts “Unusually” After a Collision
Here we are, reporting about the latest in the series of accidents involving Tesla cars. This time, however, the driver of the Model S remained stuck in his EV and burnt to death while the airbags didn’t deflate either, according to witnesses. Apparently, they tried to aid the injured driver but were unable to open the car’s doors. According to Tesla, "when an airbag inflates, Model S unlocks all doors, the trunk, and extends all door handles." For whatever reason, this didn’t happen last Sunday.
It's unclear at the moment what caused the accident, but it seems like the driver was traveling way beyond the speed limit, some saying the Model S was probably exceeding 75 mph at the time of the crash.
As per Auto Blog, "the driver crossed three lanes of traffic before flying up onto the median."
Tesla commented on the crash, saying "We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high-speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles."
It has to be said that the airbag that pops out from within the steering wheel is designed to deflate right after the crash so as to prevent further injury to the driver. More than one person took to Twitter to explain what happened, and they all repeat that the airbags didn’t deflate and that the doors remained firmly shut.
This is something very worrying as it is completely against what Tesla says its cars are designed to do after a crash. If, somehow, the crash damaged some electrical connections that prevented the door handle activation mechanism from working, then it’s up to Tesla to look into this very closely as it’s vital for any car to be accessible after a crash.
While there isn't data to suggest that electric cars catch fire more often in case of a crash compared to standard ICE-powered vehicles, in case of electric cars something else happens: they tend to reignite after the original fire was put out.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the wreckage was taken to a nearby towing company’s yard where firefighters were needed at least three times on Sunday night. “We have a problem where the car keeps catching fire because the battery pack itself hasn’t drained yet,” said Davie Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Robert Diferdinando, quoted by the Sun Sentinel.
This isn’t the first time a Tesla caught fire again after a crash. Also, it isn’t the first case of a Tesla catching fire after a crash. In May, two teenagers were killed after a 116 mph collision resulted in a fire. A third teenager escaped death after being thrown out of the vehicle mid-crash. There was also another crash that happened in 2016 where a Model S crashed into a tree and then into a garage which caused a number of explosions that led to the car being engulfed in flames.
At the time, a firefighter explained why putting out a fire on a modern car is much tougher than on an older, simpler one. "With the high voltage batteries they’re lithium-ion batteries and they require copious amounts of water to extinguish them, they burn very hot," Jones said. "Back in the 1980s, the vehicles you could come up there and cut pretty much everywhere and not have a hazard. But now with the introduction of airbags and the seat belt retention and the high voltage lines, we have to peel and peak and look and make sure we’re not going to cut into something that will cause a hazard for us or the victims.”
It also isn't the first instance of a Tesla being involved in a crash.
Many have happened in the past few years, but this isn’t unexpected, especially since quite a few were caused by the drivers letting the cars drive themselves in Autopilot mode and proceeding to mind their own business without paying attention to the road ahead.
With all this being said, Teslas aren’t exactly rolling tombs. In fact, Tesla claimed in October of last year that the Model 3 is the car with the lowest likelihood of injury in case of a crash out of all the cars ever tested by the NTHSA. Indeed, the compact sedan received a 5-star rating from the NHTSA after completing the full NCAP tests. The agency counteracted the American automaker’s claims by stating that the "NHTSA does not distinguish safety performance beyond that [5-star] rating. Thus there is no ’safest’ vehicle among those vehicles achieving 5-star ratings."
Then again, the Model 3 is the same car whose door handles and windows would freeze last November as wintery temperatures hit Canada. Tesla’s first answer to the problem, that occurred even if you pre-heated your car for 15 minutes straight, was a very lazy fix: the driver’s side window would no longer go all the way up so that there would be no danger of it freezing in place and, as a result, the door handle also locking itself. With the door’s window ’half-wounded’, the automatically deployed door handles, did work even in cold temperatures, but you can hardly call that a genuine solution.
Let's just hope Tesla will find legitimate, proper solutions to the issues that seem to present themselves in the case of this tragedy.
That is not to say that other manufacturers that are just entering the arena of EVs, like Mercedes-Benz for instance, won’t hit their fair share of hurdles and unforeseen gremlins, it’s just that Tesla is the first to mee most of them and that’s why it comes under heavy fire from the public on what it seems to be a monthly basis.
Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model S.
Read our full speculative review on the 2022 Tesla Model S.