The Tesla driver who died with a passenger in a fiery September crash near Miami accelerated to 90 mph (145 kph) in the seconds before he lost control and smashed into trees, according to federal investigators, a conclusion disputed by the driver’s family attorney.
According to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the 20-year-old driver accelerated his 2021 Model 3 sedan as he crossed a Coral Gables intersection to beat a yellow light on a residential street, tripling the 30 mph (49 kph) limit. The driver lost control as he cleared the intersection and veered left onto the median, where the Tesla collided with one large tree before slamming into another, according to the NTSB. According to the report, he never hit the brakes, citing five seconds of data recovered from the car’s severely damaged event recorder.
The crash on September 13 damaged the Tesla’s high-voltage lithium-ion battery, causing the car to burst into flames, killing both the driver and his 19-year-old female passenger.
According to Aaron Davis, the attorney for the driver’s family, a video taken from behind the Tesla does not appear to show it accelerating at an excessive rate. He claims the video shows the car bottoming out, turning in an uncharacteristic manner, and losing a tire before collapsing into the trees and exploding.
He claimed that even if the driver was traveling at 90 mph (145 kph), the car should not have lost control or exploded in a fireball as it did, blaming Tesla for the deaths. He anticipates that a lawsuit will be filed.
“You can’t market a car for its speed and coolness and then blame the driver for doing what you’re marketing,” Davis explained. Police have not released the victims’ names, and Davis has declined to do so, but both were local college students, according to Davis. He stated that the driver had “no significant history” of speeding or traffic violations and that the Tesla was his “dream car.”
Last month, the company recalled nearly 2,800 Model 3s, including some from the 2021 model year, due to suspension issues that could result in the driver losing control and crashing. The NTSB report does not specify whether the vehicle involved in the crash was subject to the recall.
Davis stated that because the company has not released the vehicle identification numbers, he does not know if the car involved in this crash was covered. However, he believes the suspension was faulty because the car bottomed out and hit the road before the crash.
The NTSB stated at the time of the crash that it always investigates crashes involving new technology, such as Teslas, and that it would focus on the vehicle’s operation and the fire.
Tesla vehicles do not use gasoline, which increases the risk of a large fire after a collision, but the company’s advice to first responders includes a warning about lithium-ion battery fires. According to Tesla representatives, high-speed collisions can cause a fire in any type of vehicle. At a later date, the NTSB will issue a full report and determine the cause of the crash. The agency has broad authority to investigate transportation accidents, but no regulatory authority. It can only make recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other regulatory agencies in traffic accidents.
Coral Gables police said Wednesday that their investigation is still ongoing and that no report has been issued. The city is located southwest of Miami’s downtown area.