Amid its ongoing investigation into two Tesla accidents earlier this year, an investigator from the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) has stated that the Elon Musk-led company’s electric cars are not more prone to fires than other vehicles on the road today.
The NTSB’s statement was related to ABC7 investigative reporter Lisa Fletcher. According to Survival Factors investigator Tom Barth, the NTSB has not found any indication that Teslas are more fire-prone than other vehicles. Barth also attributed the number of reported Tesla fires to the popularity of the electric cars themselves.
“We do not have an indication that Teslas are any more prone than any other electric vehicles in these sorts of events. Any vehicle, whether it’s gas-powered or electric-powered has the potential to catch fire. And when you’re looking at these very severe events… You know, bad things can happen,” the NTSB investigator said.
The NTSB is currently investigating two fatal accidents involving Teslas earlier this year. The first investigation was caused by an accident involving a Model X on Autopilot crashing into a highway barrier near Mountain View, CA last March. Due to the absence of a crash attenuator, the Model X smashed into a concrete barrier with such intensity that its entire front end was ripped off and its battery pack was punctured, resulting in a fire that took approximately 200 gallons of water and foam to extinguish. According to a preliminary report published by the NTSB, the ill-fated Model X’s battery pack reignited five days after the accident.
The NTSB’s second investigation was triggered by an accident involving a Tesla Model S in FL. The Model S was not on Autopilot when the crash happened, but because the car was traveling 116 mph, the electric car’s battery pack was breached due to the impact, resulting in a fire that took the life of the driver and a passenger. The car’s battery also reignited after the totaled vehicle was brought into the storage yard, according to Reuters.
These instances of burning Teslas, including an incident when the battery pack of actress Mary McCormack’s Model S emitted flames, have fueled the notion that the company’s electric cars are prone to catching fires. Tesla, for its part, denies this notion, stating that its vehicles are far less likely to catch fire than their gas-powered counterparts. This claim is backed by statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, which stated that there were roughly 173,000 reported vehicle fires in the United States in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to Statista.com. Practically all of these incidents are from gas-powered cars, which translates to one ICE vehicle catching fire every 2-3 minutes, or 55 fires per 1 billion miles driven.
According to Tesla, the best comparison between its electric cars is the number of fires reported per 1 billion miles driven. There are currently 300,000 Teslas on the road today, and they have driven 7.5 billion miles. So far, about 40 fires have been reported, translating to 5 fires for every 1 billion miles traveled.
Tesla’s lineup of vehicles has garnered some of the highest safety ratings in the automotive industry. When the NHTSA reviewed the Model S back in 2013, the agency awarded the electric car a 5-star safety rating overall and in every subcategory. The Model X, Tesla’s midsize SUV, was also assigned a perfect score by the NHTSA. The safety ratings for the Model 3 have not yet been released, but so far, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the compact electric car a “superior rating for front crash prevention.”