Remember how in those old, classic James Bond movies a car would hit a bump then explode like a bomb and burn like the Hindenburg? Well, it seems reality has caught up with fiction after a Tesla hit a tree in Texas and burst into flames so persistent that a team of rescue workers using 30,000 gallons of water over four hours still couldn’t extinguish them. The news story focused on whether the Tesla in question was self-driving when it crashed, killing two occupants. But surely the battery that an entire fire department can’t put out using a swimming pool deserves some attention on the question of environmental as well as personal safety.
While ABC reported that the fire was so hard to put out “because the battery kept reigniting”, Car and Driver begged to differ. It was just a little smoulder really. “The initial fire was quickly put out, he [Woodlands Township fire chief Palmer Buck said], but the vehicle smoldered and continued to ignite after that, which is why firefighters used a small-diameter hose to keep water running onto the area, to deal with any small flames that started.” So no biggie, really. Although “By the time even the smallest embers were finally out, many hours after the crash, somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 gallons were used, Buck said. This was only possible because the incident happened in a residential area with a hydrant nearby. Had the crash happened on a highway, his department’s trucks, which carry between 500 and 1000 gallons, would not have been able to keep on lightly soaking the car for that much time.”
What, then, if there were to be a multi-car pileup in some spot where many cars happen to be travelling fast like, oh, a highway? Of course on the plus side, EVs don’t really seem to have the range for highway travel. If that’s a plus in the larger context. And even if they don’t catch fire, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that those batteries create a massive toxic waste problem when they wear out in under a decade.
P.S. We note that the Center for American Progress warns that “advances in lithium-ion batteries have opened the door to flying car development”. But it will be racist and undemocratic: “Flying cars represent a political danger because they will allow wealthy elites to further opt out of common institutions and everyday experiences, deepening social segregation. The biggest societal challenges such as combating climate change or alleviating poverty can only be solved through persistent, collective action. Yet, it’s hard to fashion a broad-based political project if the most sophisticated and powerful actors live in a parallel society decoupled from the problems in need of solutions.”
To say nothing of them plunging from the sky in unquenchable flames like, well, the Hindenburg.