In Depth

Driver dies after Tesla Model X catches fire in California

Witness of the fatal crash says EV’s battery was ‘actively emitting flames’

A man has been killed following an accident involving an electric Tesla Model X in Mountain View, California, on March 23.

According to NBC Bay Area, the driver of the blue Model X collided with the barrier on highway 101’s central reservation and caught fire. The electric car was then struck by a Mazda and an Audi before coming to rest in the left hand lane. 

A witness told the news site that the man was dragged from the wreckage as the EV was “actively emitting full flames from the battery bank”. 

The witness added: “We brought him [to] what we hoped was a safe distance from the wreck, hoping the LiPo [lithium-polymer] batteries weren’t prone to exploding”.

The driver later died from his injuries in hospital. 

After the accident happened, Tesla dispatched an employee to the scene to investigate, reports the US motoring site The Drive

While the Model X is equipped with an autonomous Autopilot system, which manages the car’s steering and pedal controls, The Drive says it’s not known whether the feature was activated at the time of the incident. 

Question marks remain over what caused the crash. Engadget says the accident raises concerns over the safety of electric cars fitted with lithium-polymer (also known as lithium-ion) battery packs. 

Rescue crews “still aren't certain” how to deal with EV crashes, the tech site says, as battery fires can’t be extinguished with water. 

Last October, a Tesla Model S fire took 35 firefighters two hours to extinguish after a 19-year-old crashed her EV in Austria, according to a report in The Sun

The driver survived, the newspaper said, but fire crews had to wear gas masks as the batteries omitted “toxic gases”.

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