A driver has died after his Tesla Model X crashed in California on Friday morning, and concerns about its exposed battery contributed to more than six hours of lane closures, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The accident was reported when the 2017 Tesla, traveling at freeway speed, collided with a median barrier.
Soon after the crash, the vehicle caught on fire, and then an approaching Mazda and Audi hit the Tesla.
The Tesla driver was removed from the car and taken to hospital with major injuries, and was pronounced dead Friday afternoon, Officer Art Montiel said.
Road crews were prevented from immediately clearing the wreck from the roadway because explosion concerns after the car’s sizeable battery was exposed by the crash.
Engineers from Tesla were sent to evaluate the battery, and after about an hour they deemed the car safe to transport, Montiel said.
The semiautonomous Autopilot feature had also been turned on before the crash raising more questions about the safety of the company’s self-driving technology.
The company said in a statement posted on its website that the driver in the crash last week had “about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view” before he crashed into a median barrier, adding that “the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.”
The driver had been given “several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive,” Tesla said.
Still, Tesla defended its Autopilot hardware. In its statement, the company said there was one automotive fatality for every 138 million kilometres across all vehicles in the United States, compared with one fatality for every 515 million kilometres in vehicles equipped with Autopilot.
“If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident,” the company said.
The crash occurred five days after a fatality which involved the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology.