Earlier today, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that they are sending 2 investigators to conduct a “Field Investigation” of a fatal accident involving a Tesla Model X that caught on fire in a crash last week.

Tesla wasn’t able to retrieve the data logs due to the severity of the crash, but it now nonetheless elaborates on the potential cause of the crash with first details released since the accident.

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According to the California Highway Patrol, a Model X hit the median barrier on highway 101 in Mountain View and it quickly caught on fire before being hit by two other cars.

The driver was taken to the hospital, but he unfortunately died of his injuries.

In a blog post released tonight, Tesla says that Autopilot had no issues handling the section of the highway where the accident occurred tens of thousands of times.

As for the severity of the crash, the company pointed to a highway safety barrier that was modified.

Here are the points that Tesla brought forward in the blog post:

  • Due to the extensive damage caused by the collision, we have not yet been able to retrieve the vehicle’s logs.
  • We are currently working closely with the authorities to recover the logs from the computer inside the vehicle. Once that happens and the logs have been reviewed, we hope to have a better understanding of what happened.
  • Our data shows that Tesla owners have driven this same stretch of highway with Autopilot engaged roughly 85,000 times since Autopilot was first rolled out in 2015 and roughly 20,000 times since just the beginning of the year, and there has never been an accident that we know of. There are over 200 successful Autopilot trips per day on this exact stretch of road.
  • The reason this crash was so severe is that the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. The following image shows what the barrier looked like when the crash attenuator was in proper condition, and what it looked like the day prior to the crash, based on dash cam footage from a witness of the accident who commutes daily past this location. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.

  • Tesla battery packs are designed so that in the rare circumstance a fire occurs, it spreads slowly so that occupants have plenty of time to get out of the car. According to witnesses, that appears to be what happened here as we understand there were no occupants still in the Model X by the time the fire could have presented a risk. Serious crashes like this can result in fire regardless of the type of car, and Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle.

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