Tesla Model S Fire: Should the NHTSA Investigate?


Due to lack of government funding, the NHTSA is closed down.

Model S Gets Flipped for Safety After Crash Tests...No Fire Here

Model S Gets Flipped for Safety After Crash Tests…No Fire Here

When it comes back online, should the NHTSA’s top priority be to investigate the Tesla Model S fire that occurred after impacting that “curved section that fell off a semi-trailer?”

Some say “yes.”

Others insist “no.”

We say “go for it” if you must, but it’s a waste of government time and money.

While some are calling for the NHTSA to investigate based on the fact that the Agency decided to scrutinize the Chevy Volt that ignited (in a delayed fashion) following NHTSA crash tests, this Model S occurrence is way different.

Model S Aces Side Pole Test

Model S Aces Side Pole Test

You see, when the Chevy Volt ignited, that was under controlled conditions and occurred after federally mandated crash testing.  The Tesla Model S never ignited after those tests.

Out in the real world, anything can and does happen.

A freak occurrence of some object impaling a battery pack with 25 tons of force will be next-to impossible to duplicate in a lab setting.

Similarly, for this to occur again out in the real world, all of the stars would have to align precisely.  It’s 1 in 1 million (just a random, uneducated guess) that a “curved section that fell off a semi-trailer” again impales a Model S’ battery pack with 25 tons of force.

The whole reason that the NHTSA conducts standardized tests is to let us know whether or not a vehicle is safe under most conditions.  These tests simply cannot take into account all conditions.

Back when the NHTSA investigated the Chevy Volt, the Agency issued this statement:

Chevy Volt Fire Occurred After This Type of Standardized Test

Chevy Volt Fire Occurred After This Type of Standardized Test

 NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate, fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components—and the innovative nature of this emerging technology—led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents.

One real-world incident does not provide ample data for the NHTSA to make educated decisions and, again, the Model S never had a fire following NHTSA crash tests.

Waste of time and resources for the NHTSA to investigate this one?  We think so, but do you?

Categories: Crashed EVs, Tesla

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

11 Comments on "Tesla Model S Fire: Should the NHTSA Investigate?"

newest oldest most voted

No it was an extremely unusual occurrence, be a waste of public money.
A normal alert driver would not have ploughed into that large metal object on the road.
And if they did In a normal ICE car it could have been even worse!
So what’s to prove ?

All accidents like this should always be investigated by the NHTSA.

Sorry, that is a waste of time. There are 150,000 incidents like this each year. Not realistic.

150,000 battery electric cars did not catch fire in these circumstances each year. NHTSA should investigate as this a new occurrence.

Why should NHTSA, or anyone for that matter, prioritize battery electric cars that catch fire?

Instead they should prioritize the accident investigations that could reduce overall deaths and injuries the most, which is exactly what they try to do.


If it happens a second time I’d say yes, but wasting time and money over a one-time occurrence with no fatalities is pointless.


Car fires happen. A lot in fact. There need to be special circumstances for an NHTSA investigation to be warranted. I’m not aware of any.

A single data point (e.g., one fire) does not constitute a pattern. If we start getting more fires, THEN we should consider investigating. One-off incidents like this are rare and unlikely to ever happen again.

Maybe the NHTSA should start including some sort of testing of large curved metal debris penetration on all vehicles… That will keep us warm. 😉

More importantly the various DOTs should take their responsibility a little bit more seriously of keeping the roads safe. Than includes patrolling, cleaning, maintaining, inspecting and enforcing violations.

What planet are you guys living on? From the NHTSA website:

“Employees seeking additional information as to their work status may visit http://www.dot.gov/status

Sure they should look into it, there’s probably a lot that can be learned. I have a reservation on a Model X and I’d like to know that fires and other catastrophic failures of the car’s systems are well-characterized. We’ve got a long ways to go to establish the parameters of EV safety versus the century of experience with ICE vehicles.

Here’s an example: most Americans have some intuition or even personal experience with what burning gasoline is like. How hot it gets, how hard to control, the fumes, etc. I’d venture that very few of us are as familiar with a lithium fire. Despite the existing study of the subject there’s still stuff to learn there and I’d like for us to have explored that space sooner rather than later.

I’m very confident in the safety of EV’s, much moreso than ICEV’s, but that doesn’t mean that I think the book is closed on the subject. Why not have the NHTSA investigate? I’m confident that the findings will be informative, and positive.