A Tesla caught fire yesterday. This is big news because people are very concerned about the safety of Tesla’s lithium battery packs and what might happen to them in the event of an accident. The reality of the situation seems to be that Teslas are quite safe (but not as safe as they claim). However, in the event of catastrophic damage, the fuel source that powers the car can ignite. Does this sound like any other sort of non-electric car you may have heard of?
Given the hand-wringing, it seems not. But lest you forget, most Americans are driving cars that feature a large tank full of gallons of explosive liquid, explosive liquid which is then combusted in an enclosed space just feet away from where you–the driver–are peacefully making your way down the road.
And don’t feel too secure about your cars ability to protect you from the flames. In a large, detailed report on car fires (PDF) FEMA reports that car fires killed 490 people between 2004 and 2006. One of every six total fires in the country is a car catching fire on the highway. From 2004 to 2006, 258,000 cars caught fire on highways (another 20,000 or so caught fire on streets). Of those fires, 84% occur in passenger vehicles, so it’s not just big trucks carrying explosive cargoes. And in half of the fires, mechanical failures were the cause.
In case this seems all academic, our country’s intrepid local news sources can help establish some anecdotal evidence for us. Here’s just a smattering of some of the more sensational car explosion stories from recent years:
Car Explosion In Los Angeles:
“On Friday, August 19th, a Los Angeles firefighter was working to extinguish a car explosion when a secondary explosion struck him directly in the face.”
Car Explodes Near Montgomery BART Station
“Check out some video of the billowing black smoke from the scene. At least two very loud and scary booms were heard, and the fire department responded quickly.”
Car Explodes After Collision on James Street
“A car on James Street between Second and Third avenues exploded this afternoon in a fiery ball that witnesses said sounded like dynamite.“
White van erupts into flames near Madison Square Park
“‘I feel lucky,’ said van driver, Moses Huggins, 60, of Bedford Stuyvesant. ‘We were in the truck and we didn’t even know it was on fire.‘”
BREAKING NEWS — Car Explodes in Penrose
“The explosion happened on 9th Street South between Veitch Street and Courthouse Road. No one was hurt, according to fire department spokesperson Lt. Ed Hughes.”
“‘It appears to be an accident,’ said police spokesperson Det. Crystal Nosal. ‘Nothing at this point leads us to believe it’s intentional.'”
Car becomes fireball: Watch terrifying moment vehicle explodes into flames in traffic jam
“Without warning, the vehicle in front explodes into flames, its doors fly open and the people inside burst out into the night, desperately trying to remove their red hot clothes.”
A freak and tragic accident: Car explosion kills Illinois man, injures another
“A massive car explosion outside a vacation home Saturday night killed one man from Illinois and critically injured another.”
Mass. woman’s car explodes after she uses remote to unlock it
“Investigators are working to determine exactly how a woman’s car remote ignited an explosion that destroyed her car and sent debris flying through a parking lot at a Massachusetts shopping center.”
Even Dick Van Dyke’s car exploded once. Celebrities, they’re just like us.
Is it bad that Teslas are catching on fire on the highway? Unquestionably. Does this make them different from any other car on the road, which people happily buy despite the risk?