About half of the 189,500 highway vehicle fires in the United States in 2019 were in electric cars, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Officials from The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who have been investigating the fires in electric cars, point to the lithium-ion battery systems, and say the fires’ duration and intensity, fueled by chemicals and extreme heat buildup, can cause the cars to burn for hours.
Tesla admits in its emergency response guide for the Model S posted on its website that battery fires can take hours to extinguish.
Need to address hard-to-extinguish fires
In April, a Tesla Model S crash in a Houston suburb resulted in the instant deaths of the two male passengers, neither of whom was in the driver’s seat. Officials said the battery inside the Tesla ignited after the collision, causing a fire that burned for four hours and required more than 30,000 gallons of water to put it out. The NTSB which investigated the crash reported it has already initiated 28 investigations into Tesla crashes.
In addition to road crashes, Tesla – an electric car market leader – said its vehicles have been known to catch fire when their batteries are plugged in and nearly fully charged. And, its Autopilot feature is known to have problems dealing with stationary objects like stopped emergency vehicles, resulting in multiple crashes.
Concerns about sufficient testing
Tesla has pushed ahead with technology it terms “self-driving,” despite criticism from safety regulators who questioned whether the technology had been sufficiently tested. Some Tesla vehicles can steer, accelerate and brake on their own in certain circumstances, but drivers are still required to supervise and be ready to intervene. As the Autopilot features have become more common, some distracted drivers have been in crashes as their cars navigated on their own.
Just this week, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles announced it is reviewing whether Tesla is violating a state regulation by advertising its vehicles as being fully autonomous without meeting the legal definition of self-driving. At least for now, the controversies and problems swirling around Tesla continue.