The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating California electric car company Tesla’s Model S after two vehicles experienced battery fires.
In both of these cases, the car safety mechanisms worked properly, warning the drivers that the car was compromised. As a result, both were able to get out of the vehicle without experiencing any bodily harm.
Still, there are more than 13,000 cars on the road of this same made and model, so investigators are not taking any chances that there could be an underlying defect that may pose a risk to many more people. Experts say that the battery is located underneath the passenger compartment and that damage to the battery can cause sparks, leading to a fire. Since this design is consistent among all of the Model S vehicles, it could be a design defect that makes the car unreasonably dangerous for consumers. If that is the case, the NHTSA will likely institute a recall to get these cars off of the road and may require Tesla to redesign the battery to ameliorate this risk.
The founder and CEO of the company noted in a statement that their vehicles catch fire at a lower rate than gas-powered vehicles and that at this point there have been no injuries. In order to further reduce the likelihood of harm the company sent out an over-the-air software update to raise the suspension height slightly to keep the battery further from the ground where it could be damaged.
Car fires caused by defective parts can pose a very serious threat to the public. Car manufactures must act to protect drivers and passengers when a widespread problem is known to cause fires in their vehicles. If they do not act appropriately and people are injured or killed, the car company should be held accountable for their negligence.
Source: The Los Angeles Daily News, “Tesla car battery fires probed by US safety agency,” Tom Krisher, Nov. 19, 2013