Area where crash occurred.

​Area where crash occurred. (Background source: Google Maps)

Electric Vehicle Run-off-Road Crash and Postcrash Fire

What Happened

​On April 17, 2021, about 9:07 p.m. central daylight time, a 2019 Tesla Model S P100D electric car was traveling west on Hammock Dunes Place—a residential road in Spring, Harris County, Texas—when it crashed and caught fire. The crash trip originated at the driver’s residence near the end of a cul-de-sac. The car traveled about 550 feet before departing the road at a leftward curve, driving over the right-side curb, hitting a storm sewer inlet and a raised manhole, sideswiping a tree, and running into a second tree. The crash damaged the front of the car’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery case, where a fire started. As a result of the crash and the postcrash fire, the driver and passenger were fatally injured. 

What We Found

We ​​determined that the probable cause of the Spring, Texas, electric vehicle crash was the driver’s excessive speed and failure to control his car, due to impairment from alcohol intoxication in combination with the effects of two sedating antihistamines, resulting in a roadway departure, tree impact, and postcrash fire.

Lessons Learned

​​​​Alcohol Impairment and Excessive Speed.
In this crash, and as the NTSB has previously noted in numerous crashes, alcohol impairment and excessive speed were significant causal factors. Since 1968, the NTSB has issued nearly 150 safety recommendations addressing impaired driving, and the issue area “Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving” is on the NTSB’s current Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Speeding is also one of the most common factors associated with motor vehicle crashes in the United States, and “Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Speeding-Related Crashes” is an issue area on the NTSB’s current Most Wanted List. The NTSB has advocated for vehicle technologies—including passive vehicle-integrated alcohol impairment detection systems, advanced driver monitoring systems, and intelligent speed adaptation—to help reduce crashes caused by alcohol impairment and excessive speed. Requiring these technologies and/or incentivizing them through consumer information programs is necessary to achieve widespread installation.

Electric Vehicle Fires.
The NTSB has recommended to manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries that they provide information for how to extinguish electric vehicle fires in their emergency response guides in a standardized format, and also that they provide vehicle-specific information. Having the emergency response guides published in a clear, consistent format would improve their usefulness to emergency responders and make it quicker and easier to find the necessary information.