Are Electric Cars Too Powerful? Tesla Model S Involved In Deadly Crash Was Traveling 116 MPH

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In May, a Tesla Model S crashed into a concrete barrier in South Florida, killing the teenage driver and a passenger. The car burst into flames after the impact, drawing attention from the national and international press. Fire! Fire! Read All About It! Tesla Model S Catches Fire In Florida! We at CleanTechnica have tried to walk the always fine line between sensationalism and journalism. Yes, sometimes an event becomes news only because it is being covered extensively in the news and Tesla fires tend to get press attention. But we have gone out of our way to point out there are far more gasoline fires in the US every day than electric car battery fires.

Now, 6 weeks after that horrific crash, the first preliminary data from the car has been made public. It reveals the car reached speeds of 116 mph shortly before the crash, then slowed somewhat as it approached the turn where the crash occurred. The turn has a posted speed limit of 25 mph. Witnesses told the National Transportation Safety Board the Tesla lost control, struck a wall, rebounded into another wall, and erupted in flames, according to a report in Fortune.

Are Teslas Too Powerful?

Nothing can ease the pain the parents of the deceased teens feel, but there’s a reason insurance companies charge higher premiums for teenage drivers. Teenagers do stupid things, whether they are driving a car or not. I did, and the chances are you did, too. Sometimes I realize I am lucky to be alive. Part of the reason I am is because my parents insisted my first cars were all Chevrolets powered by the trusty Blue Flame six — an engine with barely enough power to pull the skin off custard.

Around the water cooler here at the posh CleanTechnica headquarters, we have been having a conversation among ourselves lately about whether electric cars in general, and Teslas in particular, have too much power. The subject came up this week because Tesla announced it will soon start building the performance version of the Model 3. Some of our people have driven the single motor Model 3 and found it has quite enough power for ordinary use. They question whether many drivers will really feel the need for more power.

I know from driving the Jaguar I-PACE recently that it is plenty quick even though it “only” has 400 horsepower. The Model S P100D has nearly double that. Elon seems to have a fascination with speed, claiming the base model of the new Roadster will storm to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds and that performance versions will go quicker than that. He says they will even have an array of tiny rocket engines to boost performance further. Oh, joy. Just what more people need. A car that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

Speed-Limiting Technology

People love fast cars. Always have, always will. If Tesla or any other manufacturer wants to build a car that travels at the speed of light, more power to them. But that doesn’t mean such high levels of performance should be available on public roads, does it?

If Elon is so determined to cut highway deaths, why build cars that are capable of ungodly speeds any time the driver gets a sudden urge to show off? Isn’t there some degree of hypocrisy at work here? Be safe, but go stupidly fast any time you want? Certainly a car, any car, with a sophisticated suite of electronic controls should not be able to go 116 mph on a city street. Is there really any argument about that?

Speed Limiter Pluses & Minuses

The road on which the Tesla Model S was traveling has a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour. Data gathered by the car’s safety restraint system showed it was going 116 mph 3 seconds before the crash. How difficult would it be to link speed limit data provided by GPS to vehicle speed data and prevent any car from exceeding the speed limit by some specified amount?

Do people on public roads have a constitutional right to drive 116 mph in 35 mph zones if they feel like it? How fast is too fast? On another thread on the Tesla Reddit forum, drivers are complaining that their Teslas slowed unexpectedly when the GPS data suddenly decided they were driving too fast. One driver says his car braked hard without warning and for no apparent reason on Interstate 5 near Seattle, leaving him vulnerable to a high-speed rear-end collision.

Clearly, speeds and speed limits have an uneasy relationship at the moment. Manufacturers will need to address the issue of cars going too fast and cars going too slow before drivers can have complete confidence in electronic controls. Here’s a question I have: Should Autopilot allow speeds more than 15 mph over the posted speed limit? If you are driving that fast, shouldn’t you be willing to drive the car yourself?

We would love to hear your thoughts on these issues. Please leave a comment to let us know where you stand on speeds and speed limiters.

Tesla Introduces Remote Speed Limiter

Ford and other car companies have introduced geofencing that allows car owners to limit the area in which the car can travel. How difficult would it be to create a speed limiter parents could use to keep their children safe? Not that difficult, apparently. According to the Tesla Motors Reddit forum, Tesla introduced precisely such a feature in its latest software update that rolled out this week.

It allows owners to use the Tesla app to remotely set the maximum speed of their cars at between 50 and 90 mph. It requires vehicle software update 2018.24 or higher, according to the Redditor. Apparently, the new software capability is dedicated to the driver of the Model S in Florida who died in the crash, so congratulations to Tesla for making this important safety update quickly. Even so, 90 in a 35 mph zone is ridiculous. Why can’t a smart car be smart enough to prevent such antics?

The NTSB & Battery Fires

One of the reasons the NTSB is investigating the South Florida crash is because battery fires present unique challenges to first responders. According to ZDNet, firefighters in Florida had little difficulty extinguishing the battery fire at the scene, using about 300 gallons of water and foam to do so, but the battery reignited later on two occasions — once when it was being loaded onto a car carrier and again 5 days later while in a storage yard.

One objective of the NTSB investigation is to develop better procedures for firefighters to follow when responding to the scene of an electric car accident to avoid injury to emergency workers or others.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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