Tesla Model S driver crashes and dies in fire, responders couldn’t open doors

After crossing three lanes of traffic at high speed, a 2016 Tesla Model S crashed into palm trees and burst into flame on Sunday, according to reports. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene in Davie, Florida.

According to Davie police spokesperson Vivian Gallinal, the driver appeared to overcorrect and lose control before entering the median and hitting the trees. Gallinal also said a police officer was unable to get the driver out after the officer failed to break the car’s windows.

Witness said the Tesla’s airbags didn’t deflate after the crash and the car’s electronic exterior door handles did not deploy. According to the current Tesla Model S owner’s manual, when the car’s airbags inflate, the exterior door handles are supposed to extend.

The Davie fire department put out the fire. According to police reports, the Model S starting burning again while being transported away from the crash site and again at 5 a.m. Monday morning at the tow yard. The Tesla’s battery was ruptured, Gallinal said.

The Tesla Model S uses a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. Electric cars that use lithium batteries are generally safe, but if a battery is damaged or defective, lithium can explode or catch fire when it comes in contact with water or water vapor in the air. Reports of battery-related fires in Tesla sedans, though rare, were reported as early as 2013.

In response to last weekend’s fire, Tesla gave the following statement after Autoblog asked for comment: “We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high-speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles.”

Lithium-ion batteries are currently the most common type of battery used in all-electric vehicles, but that may change in the future. Researchers at the University of Waterloo are developing lithium metal batteries that use a phosphorus-sulfur compound that coats the inside of the lithium to prevent contact with water.

Electric cars don’t have a lock on lithium-ion fires. Soon after it launched in 2017, Samsung’s Note 7 was quickly banned from commercial aircraft and pulled from the market following multiple reports of exploding and burning phones.

We’ve also written about incidents in which lithium-ion batteries exploded or burned in cameras, iPhones, and most recently vape pens.  Last year we reported on fires in landfills and waste centers caused by discarded lithium-ion batteries and gadgets containing the power cells.

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