The National Highway Traffic Sa fety Administration announced this week it is opening an investigation into the three Tesla Model S fires over the past two months, stoking the flames of a controversy of whether or not electric cars are safe.
In response, Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote a blog post pointing out that no one in any of the fires had been injured, and that each had been caused by an unusual, high-speed accident. (He also said Tesla requested the investigation, which the NHTSA denies.)
But when you look at the numbers, it's clear that Musk is right to complain about all this attention: Vehicle fires are quite common, so it's unfair to go crazy when they happen in electric cars, too.
According to the Department of Transportation, in 2010, Americans drove 2.999 trillion miles. That year, there were 308,745,538 people in the country, and .78 vehicles per person, for a total of 240,821,520 vehicles — the vast majority of which are powered by gasoline.
So for the U.S. in 2010, that makes 1 fire for every 1,305 vehicles, and 1 fire for every 16.26 million miles driven.
Now let's look at Tesla. According to Musk, there are about 25,000 Model S cars on the road worldwide, and they have driven over 100 million miles (we'll round that down). There have been 3 fires.
So for Tesla, that makes 1 fire for every 8,333 cars, and 1 fire for every 33.3 million miles driven.
The numbers stand with Musk.
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