Flaming Sparky Car Batman!

A Tesla runs into a tree and the passenger compartment is intact.
(One presumes air bags would deploy).

So what is the result?

Remember that similar luxury overly expensive cars, like Mercedes, can take much more punch and you survive. In the case where Princes Diana died after a 100 MPH+ ramming of a cement pillar, the bodyguard (the only one who wore his seat belt) lived. So we have an existence proof of a much more dramatic event with survival.

So back at the Sparky Car:

To me, looking at the picture, the tree is about at the front wheels. For a front engine well designed gas car, that would leave the entire roll cage intact and just be starting to push the engine under the passenger compartment by a little bit. (Mostly destroying the bumper, grill, radiator, fan, and front parts of the engine – things like alternator, timing belt & pulleys, water pump before reaching the actual front of the engine block, so about a foot of actual engine travel and much of that in a pitch up, rear down pivot)

In short, it ought to be a walk away from it accident.

Yes, back in the 1970s it would be lethal. Few cars had roll cage construction. Air bags didn’t exist. Crumple zones were a dream for the future. Even seat belts were somewhat optional. In fact, I pulled a friend from a car after he had fallen asleep and run into a large walnut tree. The steering wheel removing his top front teeth breaking them off at the gum line, he had a bridge after that. The car and engine were a loss.

Now here’s a very similar accident. Likely at higher speed, and it looks like (from the text about ‘debris field’) the driver may have side swiped a couple of earlier trees before heading into this one. But side swiping trees is also very survivable even if the car is a write off for body work. So when I look at the physical damage to this car, it looks to me like it ought to have been survivable. Were it not for the fire… (and they think gasoline is a fire hazard…)


Two people died in a Tesla Model S in Indianapolis just after 1 a.m. on Thursday morning after the driver lost control at a curve, hit a tree, and crashed. A witness to the single car accident said the vehicle was barreling down the road before it collided with the obstacle and burst into flames.

High speeds are thought to be a contributing factor to the crash.

I have to question just how high the speed was if corners were involved and the tree didn’t make it past the front wheels of a car with 1/2 the motors in the rear. For the S, they added a second motor over the front axle for all wheel drive. It’s about the size of a large differential / axle combo.

“There was one big explosion first, then there were several little small ones, and debris just kept popping up in the air like somebody was at a fireworks display or something,” Alfred Finnell, Jr. related. “It hit that tree, and it bounced around, and all of a sudden it just exploded. I had to accelerate my vehicle because all the car parts went up in the air. I had to accelerate just to get away from it.”

Sounds to me like a violation of the battery compartment, short, and then the lithium fireworks began. What happens when all those K-Whr of electricity are liberated all at once into flammable battery guts.

Now a lot of folks manage to hit trees, or bridge abutments, or other cars, or even just deer, and get the entire front of the car messed up. You don’t expect the car to become a BBQ when that happens.

Flaming Tesla, Batman!

Firefighters arrived on the scene to find the ablaze and both driver and passenger trapped inside. The impact of the crash left a debris field over 100 yards long. Firefighters had to contend with the car fire and multiple fires in the road left by the small batteries and magnesium strewn about.

It took crews approximately 15 minutes to free the individuals within the Tesla, but, unfortunately, neither person survived.
Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith said electric vehicles pose unique challenges for first responders, who must use special caution when handling materials used in the car batteries. “The car, kind of, for lack of a better term, disintegrated. The batteries and the pieces and parts from the Tesla — all were on fire when firefighters initially arrived.” Reith elaborated on the challenges when firefighters confront an electric car crash. “There’s a lot of volatility in those batteries when they’re exposed unnecessarily. They are pretty well-contained until they get into something like this, where the impact literally made the car just completely blow apart.”

Do did the impact to the tree cause the “disintegration” leading to the explosive fire? Or did the exploding flaming battery pack cause the disintegration?

Do you want to be in one when it hits something or something hits it?

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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19 Responses to Flaming Sparky Car Batman!

  1. E.M.Smith says:

    This one
    has a fire truck at about a 30 degree angle in the carpool lane to shoulder and a Tesla whacks it.

    Now the back end of a fire truck is shiny chrome with red edge pilars (about lined up with lane markers.

    So, IMHO, the Tesla radar would be reflected off at the truck rear angle giving a poor retun and any camera vision would have dazzle with dark lane markings (truck edges) and stay centered in the lane (road paint being clearly resolved)

    Looks like Tesla doesn’t handle big whitish trucks well nor defined lanes with obstructions (there was that one that hit the cement barrier as it moved the lane over to close it off).

  2. Larry Ledwick says:

    I almost rear ended a fire truck in a similar situation. This was before they put the big candy stripe reflector panels on the back of the trucks. It was a dark red fire truck parked in a dark unlighted section of roadway at a similar odd angle. Because to the bend in the road and the poor light my only clue to the orientation of the fire truck was its lights, but at that angle and partially into the traffic lane, my brain literally could not figure out what the heck it was or where it was located because I had no other visual cues. Luckily I sorted it out as I slowed at near panic stop breaking and swerved into the next lane to the left.

    Right up until the last moment my brain was telling me it was parked all the way on the shoulder not sticking out into the traffic lane about 5 ft.

    Like some other optical illusions even the human vision system can get confused when cues are inadequate or fit more than one interpretation.

    It will be a long time before autonomous systems will be able to sort out odd situations like that (if ever).

    I knew something was at the side of the road with lots of lights on it but in the dark I could not pickup the shape of the vehicle to sort out the ambiguity of what it was until the very last moment when my head lights were bright enough to discern dark red against deep black on a rainy road.

    That was the entire purpose of the WWII dazzle camouflage systems on ships. You knew something was there, but your brain had a lot of difficulty figuring out what it was, which direction it was going, and at what speed, and if it was approaching or receding from you. Made life tough for gunners and submarine torpedo attacks.

  3. Dennis says:

    Years ago I was driving at night on highway with no street lighting and I was using both the vehicle’s high beam and additional driving lights to illuminate the road ahead and sides where animals can appear and possibly move in front of vehicles.

    I sensed that up ahead there was something large on the highway but could not make out what it was until very close. The object was a slow moving Army armoured vehicle with no tail lights working. Because I had sensed the object I had slowed down but if I had not been as alert who knows what might have taken place.

  4. Zeke says:

    Tales of the Transportation business —

    A lady hit a stopped truck on the freeway. Apparently she never slowed down, but at the last second, she turned very slightly to the left, which smashed in the passenger side of the car, and she lived.

    This bent in the DOT bumper on the back of the trailer and put out the tail lights, so the driver was unable to deliver the load, and the customer, who had been calling and checking on the freight location every hour, was upset and did not want to pay for the late delivery.

    But I would be curious about the identities of the people who perish in remotely controllable/hackable vehicles because it’s kind of like plane crashes.

  5. John F. Hultquist says:

    A bicycle rider told me drivers sometimes swerve ( a ‘feint” or fake move ?) toward bikers. It never happened to me, but I haven’t ridden in many years. I do believe a guy tried it on me (car to car) when he thought I was speeding. It is hard to say, but his car did move toward me when it should not have done so.
    So, I do know people that like to “test” things just for the hell of it.
    I can imagine a situation where a driver sees an autonomous car and makes a few moves on it to see how it reacts.
    Such a car will only be able to play defense (right?), so a driver with nothing better to do can test its skills.
    What could go wrong?

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    @John F:

    It is well known that people move toward where they look, even without wanting to. It can help or hurt…

  7. Another Ian says:


    Would that be a Tesla necklacing?

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    Lithium S’mores?

  9. Power Grab says:

    Last month just after sundown, I was on a highway, accelerating almost to highway speed when I saw what looked like 2 headlights in the lane ahead of me. They were higher than headlights should be. They were about as high as the top of a tractor-trailer rig, at the top of the trailer. Weird.

    I kept expecting to see them turn to one side or the other, or pull away from me…then I finally realized I was gaining in them fast and hit the brakes hard.

    It turned out to be a 2WD tractor with a big, round bale on both the back and the front. It wasn’t going highway speed, but it wasn’t just putt-putting along either. The 2 headlights I saw were mounted to the top of the bale on the back. It had no slow-moving-vehicle sign and no taillights.

    If I hadn’t been in a hurry to get to an appointment, I would have turned on my hazard lights and slowed down to stay behind it. I’ve helped “road” tractors with implements down the road before.

    I thought about calling the authorities, but figured by the time they got there, the tractor would have left the road. They surely weren’t going to stay on the highway long under those conditions!

    Do you think I should have called the authorities?

  10. p.g.sharrow says:

    I would have escorted the tractor. Hazard lights and all. Likely that farmer needed a break and not a cop and the next guy on the road may not have been so attentive. Being in a hurry to make an appointment can get people killed. Wouldn’t be the first time a farmer got caught out after dark trying to finish chores, Been there my self…pg

  11. Power Grab says:

    Thanks, pg! I’ll just let them wait for me next time… Actually, I hope they don’t do it again. ;-)

  12. Tom says:

    Tesla equivalent to a warp core breach, without an ejection system for saving the ship? Escape pods?

  13. philjourdan says:

    @Dennis – I was driving on an Interstate late one night and caught a “glint” ahead. So I got cautious as well. As I got closer, it turned out to be a van with no lights on! As I passed in the left lane, I noted that the passenger was holding a flash light pointing it out the front windshield!

    Darwin was taking a night off.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    The classic out here is in Tule Fog someone pulls to the shoulder and stops, but leaves their lights on. Cars from behind think they are defining the lane and line up on them, only discovering they are stopped just in time to slam into them. Then some other folks hit a solid band of fog and just stop in the lane. Other more ambitious folks are in that lane doing 45 mph and slam into them…

    There’s a peculiar art to just drifting slower when you hit the thick stuff, not panic stopping and if you DO pull off the road, either kill your lights or turn on the hazard flashers FAST. I try to hit 1/2 way between what I think the slowest guy would be doing (the novice fog driver panic stopping) and the fastest guy (Crazy Eddie doing 60 mph in thick fog as he doesn’t see anyone in front of him and can line up on tail lights to define the lane if he does see someone). Then I do as much tending of the rear view mirror as out the front…

    Different Story:

    I’ve owned 2 Honda Trail 90 bikes. These have a single small 6 V tail light and can’t get over 45 MPH most of the time. More than once I’ve had someone acting like they didn’t see the tail light if riding at night. Being prepared to dive off the road is essential. It’s also got a head light that is about as bright as fancy bicycle headlights today…

    Third Story:

    I was in a Mercedes SLC (low flat sports car) in the parking lot of Whole Foods. It was decoratively planted with some kind of pampas grass like stuff about 4 to 5 feet tall. I roll up to a stop sign at the middle of the parking area turn to exit driveway and I’m about 1/2 rolled through it (after a quick look to my left) when I hit the brakes. (Realize I’m a class M motorcycle license holder and VERY aware of bikers). At that time, a motorcycle cop pulls up to my drivers door an glares at me.

    ALL I’d seen was a head above the grass. Something had set off the “Wha?” reaction. I don’t know what. The helmet? The moving my way? Whatever, I got stopped.

    I was, literally, speechless. How could I, a hard core advocate for bikers against Stupid Cars Who Can’t See; be faced with almost running a stop sign in front of a motorcycle cop in a parking lot?

    After a brief “They have a stop sign for a reason!” and me just looking like death warmed over; the cop rode off. Don’t know if it was because I DID get stopped, even if late; or was on private property, or just looked so horrified at what I’d almost done.

    Part of it was my seat being so low (you climb up hill to get out of the car and stand up). Part of it was the grass blocking visuals. Part of it, frankly, was the cop being far away enough for the grass angle to cover all but his head, yet moving fast enough to reach me quickly. Part of it was me just doing the “quick flick look” while rolling instead of the full stop (but that’s all it takes in the parking lot for just about everything). I’m just glad my quick look flagged something in my brain and I did stop in time. That my first impression of “pedestrian far away” got an echo of “but something wrong, check it.”

    FWIW, now they have cut the grass plantings to about 2 feet high. I suspect more than one person had difficulty with it.

    Robot cars will need to slowly accumulate all sorts of unusual experiences over a few years to get all this kind of life experience into them; or just drive snail slow and granny like (that will drive everyone else nuts)…

  15. Larry Geiger says:

    I always said that when I gave up the GoldWing I’d get a convertible Miata. Well, the Goldwing is gone now. But I’m sure not getting a Miata. They are like go karts. The top of the door is barely higher than my knee. So I bought a Jeep. A 1995 Wrangler YJ 5 speed. So far it’s been a blast. It’s bright white and no one has bothered me. Also, I can see all around (no top, no doors, no blind spot). Goldwing on four wheels.

  16. Larry Ledwick says:

    Not sure if this is the first but there was a fatal auto ped accident last night involving an autonomous car and pedestrian walking outside the cross walk.


    How do you train an AI car that “always” follows the rules that people often do not follow the rules?

  17. Bitter@twisted says:

    Remember Ralf Nader’s book “unsafe at any speed”?
    I think it applies to Tesla cars.

  18. pouncer says:

    Autonomous automobile autopilot

    You know, I don’t want much more than a pilot over the ocean might get. I don’t want the car driving in the city or suburbs or neighborhoods or mall parking lot. I would like a bit of help, if not an outright break, from the miles on Texas and Kansas and Wyoming interstates. The so-called “cruise control” maintains a set speed … why can’t it monitor a weather radio channel and suggest an adjusted speed for upcoming conditions? Ditto a traffic channel for upcoming congestion? Why not monitor and maintain a gap between my vehicle and one a quarter mile ahead or behind — or blare alarms if it sees (before I do) a deer or a farm implement or oncoming drunk in my lane?

    All in all, this is what I want from “artificial” intelligence generally. Not a replacement brain but an augmented or auxillary one. Not smarter than I am, but smart differently. A dog-like assistant brain that senses and monitors the environment in ways I am not equipped to notice. (Using radio or satellite signals to do so, instead of sticking a nose out the window and sniffing the breeze…) It should normally alert me when something is NOT normal but would let me decide and instruct about how WE are going to react. The syntho-dog may act autonomously in very rare emergency situations to take actions for which it has very well trained. It does a few tricks — like parallel parking. It comes when I call and it puts takes itself away to its accustomed crate when we
    get home and I tell it to go lie (shut?) down. I call it Lassie or RinTinTin and if I fall down the well or get captured by Apaches, it goes to find help … I don’t expect TOO much out of it but I do expect that once I get used to it, I couldn’t imagine life without it.

    And I want a decade or so of demonstrated consumer real-world success with augmented electronic brains boosting the native bio-brains and intelligence of millions of ordinary dogs up to RinTinTin standards; before we try implanting such boosters into human brains.

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