Tesla Model X fatal crash and fire under investigation

The incident, which occurred on Friday March 23, has raised further concerns about the safety of Autopilot.

Dean C. Smith via Twitter

Tesla is having a rough month with unprecedented dips in stock prices fueled in part by Model 3 production delays and most recently by a fatal highway collision of a Model X that may have involved Autopilot, near Mountain View, California.

The incident took place on Friday, March 23 on a well-traveled stretch of Highway 101 near Mountain View. While it hasn't been confirmed whether Autopilot had been engaged, it is known that the Model X drifted out of its lane and into a partial crash attenuator device and concrete K-rail at speed.

The driver of the Model X was able to escape the vehicle before it was consumed by fire.

Dean C. Smith via Twitter

The damage to the vehicle was sufficient that the Tesla's battery pack caught fire (not uncommon in an electric vehicle crash), though thanks to the firewalls built into the battery pack, the occupant was able to escape the burning vehicle before eventually succumbing to his wounds at a local hospital.

This incident has raised a great deal of discussion around electric vehicles' propensity for catching fire in the event of a crash. While there is currently no evidence to suggest that they are more likely to catch fire than an internal combustion vehicle, fighting the fires is slightly more complex. It's likely for this reason that Tesla dispatched a team of its engineers to the scene of the crash to assist in the removal of the battery pack once it was extinguished.

Tesla dispatched a team of engineers to the crash site in Mountain View, California to assist in removing the vehicle's battery pack.

Dean C. Smith via Twitter

Tesla commented on the incident on its blog saying that this particular stretch of Highway 101 was regularly traveled using Autopilot, with 200 successful Autopilot trips being completed per day. It also mentioned that due to the extensive damage caused by the crash and subsequent fire, it had not yet been able to retrieve the vehicle's data log.

If it turns out that Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash, it would be yet another black mark on the system's record for safety. We've said in the past that a large problem with Autopilot is its somewhat misleading name, given that it is, at best, capable of Level 2 autonomy and isn't truly self-driving.