Number of Tesla Fire-Related Deaths Per Year Equals What?

4 years ago by Mark Hovis 33

Tesla Model S Fire Aftermath

Tesla Model S Fire Aftermath

Updated July 15,2014

Due to the continued questions of safety surrounding the five fires with the American manufactured  Tesla Model S, it seemed time to address the ultimate measures of safety. Life, and Injury. For this we start with the data

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 152,300 automobile fires per year in the 2006-2010 time period. These fires caused an average of 209 civilian deaths, 764 civilian injuries, and $536 million in direct property damage.

 

Not an EV

Not an EV

Facts and Figures

  • Automobile fires were involved in 10% of reported U.S. fires, 6% of U.S. fire deaths.
  • On average, 17 automobile fires were reported per hour. These fires killed an average of four people every week.
  • Mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in roughly two-thirds of the automobile fires.
  • Collisions and overturns were factors in only 4% of highway vehicle fires, but these incidents accounted for three of every five (60%) automobile fire deaths.
  • Only 2%of automobile fires began in fuel tanks or fuel lines, but these incidents caused 15% of the automobile fire deaths.
  • Although collisions or overturns were factors in only 3% of the fires, 58% of the deaths resulted from these incidents. Older vehicles were more likely to have a fire caused by mechanical or electrical failures.
  • According to the U.S Federal Highway Administration data, roughly 2,980 billion miles were driven, on average, per year on U.S. roads during this period. Roughly 90 highway vehicle fires and 0.15 highway vehicle fire deaths were reported per billion miles driven.

Source: NFPA’s “Automobile Fires in the U.S.: 2006-2010 Estimates” report by Marty Ahrens, September 2012.

The billion electric mile mark comparison (updated February 2014)

The 50,000+ Chevrolet Volts now have over 390,000,000+ electric miles and 625,000,000+ total miles driven, the 100,000+ Nissan LEAFs now have over 420,000,000+ electric miles driven, and the 30,000+ Tesla Model S sedans have over 125,000,000+ miles driven.  With the remaining  Ford Energi series, Toyota PiP  and other combined plug-in models, we are well over one billion electric miles driven.

Fisker Fire

Fisker Fire

With these new so-called experimental vehicles, we have nowhere near the 90 vehicle fires per billion miles caused in ICEs,  no deaths,  and nowhere near the fire related injuries.

Of those 4 brands with the most miles driven; the Chevrolet Volt recorded the first famous fire when  obliterated by the NHSTA in a parking lot due to a failure to discharge the battery after crash testing. This would be equal to leaving gas in the tank of a crashed vehicle which NHSTA NEVER does so  we count this one with an asterisk. Of the billion combined miles of the LEAF, Volt, and Ford Energi series, no fires have broken out for customers while parked, driving, charging or collisions of  these plug-ins.

As for the five Model S fires in question, the true cause of one is still under investigation, but with well over 125,000,000 Tesla miles, we would still need 11 Tesla fires to equal the fires of the tried and true Internal Combustion Engine.

One should always strive for complete safety, but does the data not speak for itself when it comes to which type vehicle is the safest?  As for the question of deaths, the Model S received it’s first fatality with a stolen Model S that was ripped in half at the end of a high speed police chase in July 2014. The victim was thrown from the vehicle and later died from the injuries suffered in the collision. 

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33 responses to "Number of Tesla Fire-Related Deaths Per Year Equals What?"

  1. DaveinOlyWA says:

    There is only one metric that counts here and that is the answer to one simple question;

    “Knowing all that you know now, if you had the chance to do it over again, would you still buy a Tesla?”

    The answer so far? 100% yes. Most car manufacturers consider 90% a runaway success….

    1. TomH says:

      Why not ask the insurance companies how they feel about paying out for burned-out Tesla’s? I’m sure they are less the thrilled.

      Your statement really demonstrates how people on the fringe think in such a limited way. I would recommend you open up your mind and look at the entire fire problem as a whole rather than try to justify its existence away because people allegedly don’t mind their cars burning up.

      1. Anon says:

        Please take your own advice… :p

      2. manitou820 says:

        Actually insurances companies could care less about replacing a few burned-out Tesla’s. Their single biggest cost by a HUGE margin is payouts for accidents and injuries.

      3. Rick says:

        Why you don’t ask the insurance companies how do they feel paying an Aidi R8 way more expensive than Tesla and if you see the photo above no accident that we can see

      4. ViviWannabe says:

        Because we all know that insurance companies would rather pay out for hundreds of burned out gas cars that a dozen burned out Teslas.

  2. muchski says:

    Great article! Thanks for the numbers! The other day my friend erroneously told me he heard about six Tesla explosions. His link was for the third Tesla fire And I quickly pointed out none of these were explosions and they were all significant accidents with no serious injuries and no burns. If there is a way Tesla can shield a bit better and have zero fires that would be better especially for uninformed public. Thank you for the numbers I can use illustrate how much safer even first gen EVs are!

    1. Jouni Valkonen says:

      Tesla can also develop sensors that can detect debris on the road and driving aids can perform evasive maneuvers such as automatic braking if there is no other cars immediately behind. Or even fast lane shifts if it is safe considering other traffic. Or if nothing else can be done, adaptive suspensions can rise the ground clearance to minimize potential damage to the battery pack.

      As advanced driving aids such as adaptive cruise controls are already commonplace in traditional German luxury cars, these debris detecting technologies are quite simple and they could be implemented in two to four years also in Model S, because they can use same sensors and cameras as other driving aids.

      Therefore making thicker (and heavier) armor plates is not only way to improve and reduce probability of battery fire.

      1. acevolt says:

        I like the idea of automatically raising the car. That would be the easiest to implement.

      2. Cavaron says:

        Can’t they just add a few layers of kevlar? It’s not heavy, thick or that expansive.

        1. Nick Kordich says:

          Kevlar is not magic. It is a tough material, but it’s useful in bulletproof vests, for example, because it distributes force over a greater area. If you lined the interior side of the ballistic plate with a Kevlar spall liner, you could actually make things worse by causing more cells to be crushed by the distributed force than if the object cleanly punched a relatively smaller hole in the pack.

          Remember, you’re dealing with 25 tons of force. That’s the momentum of the car striking an object pinned against the roadway at highway speed, as in the first and third accidents. It’s equivalent to dropping the car onto the object from a distance of 150 feet. The Model S has the best chance of resisting that, given that it’s smooth underside has less features to trap an object and it’s protected by a sturdy metal plate, followed by a gap to allow for the metal to dent without crushing cells, but every design has it’s limits.

          For what it’s worth, Tesla’s patents do list Kevlar as an option for the firewall on the passenger side of the battery, but it seems likely they went with their first choice of 3M ceramic cloth. Kevlar will char around 1000F, but ceramic cloth will retain its strength to over 2000F. In all three accidents where there was a fire, it appears the passenger-side of the firewall was unbreached. They designed the pack to be well protected, but the passenger cabin was designed to be even safer.

          Here’s the patent covering the most relevant safety systems in Tesla’s pack:
          http://www.google.com/patents/US8286743

  3. kdawg says:

    Note the US Volt fleet just passed 1/2 Billion total miles driven.
    (happened on Friday)

    1. Mark H says:

      Yeah, I couldn’t decide on how to list that kdawg. Really it adds to the miles-at-risk. You need to work that into one of your memes “half billion miles and 44 fires to go”

  4. Jouni Valkonen says:

    My guess is that Fisker Karma and Tesla S account over 80 % of battery fire incidents. Fisker incidents were due to poor quality in design and manufacturing, but Tesla wanted to stretch technological limits in a manner that no traditional auto manufacturer dared to take such risks.

    Therefore I think that these Tesla fires are good sign, because it really means that Tesla has stretched the technology to its limits. This is how technology is getting better. Those who do not make any mistakes are not innovating enough!

    1. TomH says:

      Installing inferior battery protection is “stretching technology” ?

      I would call it cutting corners and bad engineering.

      1. Anon says:

        You’re more than a bit presumptive, regarding Tesla engineering… Do you design EVs or work in the electrified vehicle industry? No?

    2. sven says:

      “Therefore I think that these Tesla fires are a GOOD SIGN, because it really means that Tesla has stretched the technology to its limits.” Wow, just wow. The fanboy is strong in this one, it is. I guess Tesla fanboys can put a positive spin on any bad news about Tesla.

  5. Big Solar says:

    So whats the ratio for ice fires compared to EV fires?

  6. Anon says:

    Wonder if Tesla could tie a sonar / road debris sensor to their computer controlled air suspension, and raise the vehicle to help avoid collision / penitration? Might be a nice option to add for consumer piece of mind?

  7. Josephus says:

    We all know Tesla’s are very safe. Whether my life is in danger is not the question. Tesla as a brand is all about continually improving. The real question is how to prevent colateral car damage.

    Personally, I think Tesla could shield the battery/cooling better. I understand it will be added weight. But its the right thing to do.

  8. Lad says:

    I’m surprised so many people die and so many automobiles catch fire from explosive fossil fuels. And, I am appalled the car makers haven’t addressed the death issue. It seems they are willing to sacrifice people in order to maximize profits; but, that’s an old story often repeated by American Industries.

    Perhaps fuel cells, automatic battery disconnects and automatic fuel shut off valves should be required safety equipment for all fossil fueled cars. That would be a good start to reducing deaths by explosive fuels until we can mass produce safer electric cars for the Public.

  9. MrEnergyCzar says:

    Has anyone even died driving any plug-in yet?

    MrEnergyCzar

    1. Mark H says:

      (The fire data presented is US only.) From that data set, not only are there no fire deaths, as far as I can tell there is no fire related injuries either. That is pretty amazing. EVs can not defy physics therefore these incidents will come and the media will build a story on it when it happens. But the data is proving so far that over all EVs are safer in general, and are many times safer when it comes to fires.

      Batteries can catch on fire. It’s science. > They don’t catch on fire like the media would imply.
      Gas tanks can catch on fire. It’s science. > They don’t catch on fire like Hollywood would imply.

      Every day the number of EVs on the highway increase, therefore the related accidents will rise as well. You just have to keep some form of metric with numbers. Every time someone challenges you with an incident, they are not always trying to rub it in your face. Sometimes it is their anxious way of learning. With the billion miles driven, a proper response for them to ponder might be “another EV fire today? Only 80 fires to go and they will be on par with the ICE.” With only a third of the fires coming from collisions the Model S is currently equal to ICEs with collision related fires. The Model S is still miles safer than the ICE in general collisions as well as fire related injuries.

  10. Omar Sultan says:

    One small tweak, per the Q3 investor’s letter, the Model S is over 100 million miles and growing at a clip of 700,000 miles per day.

    O

    Source: http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ABEA-4CW8X0/2783226783x0x703566/873a40e5-e798-4956-878f-47a19286d256/Tesla%20Q3'13%20Shareholder%20Letter%20final.pdf

    1. staff says:

      Thanks Omar, will update the latest Model S mileage in the story!

  11. Sevie says:

    “Mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in roughly two-thirds of the automobile fires.”

    What do we know about the average age of a burning ICE? The Leaf and the Volt have both proven they can age pretty well but the oldest EVs are pretty much all still under warranty! If the Model S is as good as we all wish to believe it is, let’s stop comparing it to cars that have nothing in common. What are the fire rates in the new (1-2 year old) Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. this car is stealing sales from? That question hasn’t been answered anywhere I’ve seen yet. Are those competitors just as prone to fires from debris strikes?

    Let’s be realistic: defending a 1.0 release to ensure a 2.0 release can happen is one thing, expecting the mainstream to change to the new product means 1.1, 1.2, etc. improvements of a product that is both initially viewed as FAR superior (Tesla is) and more importantly, continuously improving ALL aspects of the product as weaknesses are exposed. The battery is viewed as a weakness by the mainstream, regardless of what EV fans say. It is in Tesla’s court now to do something beyond spin it away and leave the mechanics unchanged.

    1. Mark Hovis says:

      Just by chance there was an Audi R8 fire within days and miles of the third Tesla fire that was utterly destroyed by a fire with no media coverage.

      The US data clearly states that older cars have a greater tendency to start an electrical fire and only time will tell if that data is equal. Cars in general are getting better in this category.(not my opinion, it is in the data). The point of the story is to deal with the implications that EVs are inherently not stable or ready for market.

      I also agree that like GM, Tesla will have to respond with some engineering improvement. Unlike GM, Musk does not like playing that game.

      Thanks for the response Sevie, good input.

    2. sven says:

      Recently, a Jaguar caught fire and received some media attention because Dick Van Dyke was driving it and there was video of the fire.

      http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/19/showbiz/van-dyke-car-fire/

    3. sven says:

      Not only did Dick Van Dyke’s car catch fire, but it also exploded! The fire and explosion were both caught on the following video.

      http://www.tmz.com/2013/08/20/dick-van-dyke-911-tape-car-fire/

      Dick Van Dyke, like the owners of the three fire-ravaged Tesla’s, stayed loyal to Jaguar despite the fire. He immediately bought another one, because he likes Jaguars.

      http://www.usatoday.com/story/driveon/2013/10/24/dick-van-dyke-jaguar/3177097/

  12. Aaron says:

    There was a fire in China with a BYD taxi. The car was hit from behind at high speed by a Nissan GT-R. The taxi caught fire; the passengers couldn’t get out and perished. It was undetermined whether the crash caused the deaths or the fire.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/business/global/byd-releases-details-about-electric-taxi-fire.html?_r=0

    Again, chalk this up to an extraordinary circumstance.

  13. Loboc says:

    I never like comparing old data to new data. The extrapolation is rarely linear. How many car fires were there for 2011 through 2013MY gas cars? By model?

  14. Scott says:

    Are there any safety statistics that compare electric and hybrid cars against gasoline driven cars of similar age distributions and road weights? I liked what I read, but it seems that there are unaddressed confounding factors here.

    1. Mark H says:

      Only one and that is that there have been no deaths or major injuries due to fire in the Model S and none in over a billion miles driven by the three other major players, Chevy, Ford, and Nissan.

      The reason for the narrow focus on fire related crashes is to deal with the false press to the contrary.

      To your question which is a broad one, the short answer is not good report to my knowledge though IMO I would give a slight advantage to the EV on the raw data. But as you stated it is a complex issue.

      For now, those who are worried about catching fire in accident should truly drive an EV for this data though complex is clearly showing the EV to be safer .