Luck, Tesla design likely saved family that plunged off cliff, experts say

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  3 weeks ago  •  9 comments

By:   Tim Stelloh

Luck, Tesla design likely saved family that plunged off cliff, experts say
Survival of California family that plunged 250 feet off cliff due to luck, Tesla's design, experts say

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



ALAMEDA, Calif. — A California doctor is alleged to have plunged his family hundreds of feet down a coastal cliff in what authorities have described as a murder attempt, but their improbable survival is likely because of luck and a well-built vehicle, experts said.

Dharmesh Patel, 41, is accused of barreling a Tesla Model Y off Devil's Slide, a roughly 250-foot cliff 20 miles south of San Francisco, on Monday morning, the California Highway Patrol said.

Images captured by a rescue team showed the battered SUV right-side up, perched precariously on a rocky ledge just above the Pacific Ocean.

230103-tesla-cliff-accident-KNTV-snip-ac-730p-f219c2.jpg Four people were rescued after a Tesla plunged over a cliff in California on Monday.NBC Bay Area

Jingwen Yu, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, said their survival was a "kind of a miracle, considering the impact severity."

"The driver probably underestimated how safe a vehicle could be, which provided us 'hope' for vehicle safety," Yu said in an email.

Patel, a 41-year-old woman and two children ages 4 and 7 — both of whom were in car seats — were in the SUV, Highway Patrol spokesman Mark Andrews said.

Andrews declined to specify their conditions Thursday. He said all remained hospitalized.

It isn't clear how fast Patel was driving when the vehicle left the scenic stretch of Highway 1 at roughly 11 a.m. Nor is it clear what driving mode Patel was using before the SUV careened off the cliff, the Highway Patrol said.

"However, that does not appear to be a contributing factor in this incident," it said Tuesday.

Flipped 'several' times


In a video from the scene, Brian Pottenger, the San Mateo Santa Cruz battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the SUV "flipped several times" on its way down.

It isn't clear whether it struck the cliffside as it fell.

An expert on accident reconstruction, Jose Granda, a professor of mechanical engineering at California State University, Sacramento, said he doesn't believe it flipped — computer simulations show it couldn't have, he said — nor does he believe it smashed into the cliffside.

If it had, Granda said, the roof would have completely collapsed and killed everyone inside. After having analyzed imagery of the damaged vehicle, he said it appeared the roof was intact with a piece of the SUV's back door on top of it.

In Granda's view, the SUV is likely to have plunged at speeds topping 80 mph — a fast fall that was most likely blunted by pebblelike rocks and sand. He compared the landing pad to a ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.

"You have the reason why these people are alive," he said.

The batteries in the vehicle's undercarriage most likely kept the vehicle from tilting forward, as a car with an engine under the hood would have, he said.

To Yu, the SUV appeared to have struck the cliffside as it tumbled toward the ocean.

"Rollover" incidents tend to be far more lethal than front-end or side crashes, Yu said. While the images showed a vehicle that had suffered major damage, Yu said its integrity appeared to have remained intact.

"The occupants still have a survival space," he said. "That's remarkable."

Yu pointed to the SUV's roof strength and seat belt design. He also said its low center of gravity — the batteries are in the undercarriage — may have helped it land on its wheels instead of its roof.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research and educational organization, has given the Tesla Model Y top safety scores since it was introduced in 2020, a spokesman said.

But the organization's chief research officer, David Zuby, cautioned that no carmaker prepares for an event like the one on Devil's Slide.

"In my 35 years of working on vehicle safety, I've never had an automaker say, 'Look at this crash test we're doing for extra credit,'" he said. "No car you could go buy today is designed to protect the driver when they drive off a cliff like that."

Their survival, he said, was "mostly luck."

Safety improvements over the years


Still, Zuby said, cars have generally become safer in the last three decades. They're built with stronger materials, like high-strength steel and a better-designed "safety cage," or the area that protects a car's occupants.

Those improvements mean people are less likely to die in wrecks than they were in the 1970s and the 1980s, Zuby said.

"People are wearing seat belts more than they were 30 years ago," he said. "That for sure or likely played a role in those people's survival."

Whether it was a seat belt, luck or the Model Y's well-built roof, Pottenger said, while rescue workers were developing a recovery plan, through binoculars they noticed someone moving in the SUV's front seat.

"It was very shocking," he told NBC News NOW. "We did not expect that. It really turned my mind into a different avenue, that this is not a recovery — this is an active rescue."

Helicopters were dispatched, and the family was hoisted from the vehicle using rescue baskets, he said.

Authorities haven't identified a motive. Patel, who works at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, will be booked into the San Mateo County Jail on attempted murder and child abuse charges after he is released from the hospital, the Highway Patrol said.

It isn't clear whether Patel has a lawyer. In a statement, the hospital said it was "deeply saddened to learn of a traffic incident involving one of our physicians and his family," adding, "We are extremely grateful there were no severe injuries."

The hospital declined to comment further.


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Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  Buzz of the Orient    3 weeks ago

When I first read of the incident, there was no thought that it could have been deliberate, and two things went through my mind.  The first was whether the car had been on autopilot, which would have been exceptionally dangerous considering the location, and having also noted that there were never, if ever, survivors from such an incident at that location, that it could be a great boost of Tesla's reputation for its level of crash safety.  

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    3 weeks ago

The failure of each Tesla or other EV model has been magnified especially the self driving and one

or two "stuck accelerator" incidents, the one on  Tik Tok in China most recently.

It would not be beyond reason to believe that, or assume that the defense will put that forward 

as reasonable doubt. unless the wife and children testify against him as to what happened before

the car left the road.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2  Trout Giggles    3 weeks ago

I'm curious why he wanted to kill his family

 
 
 
Ed-NavDoc
Professor Quiet
2.1  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Trout Giggles @2    3 weeks ago

I'm wondering if that is a assumption based on the accident itself, or is there proof of problems prior to the accident?

 
 
 
pat wilson
Professor Guide
3  pat wilson    3 weeks ago

I think the "good" doctor should be made to act as Tesla's crash dummy.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
3.1  Ender  replied to  pat wilson @3    3 weeks ago

Put him in front of the cars to test the automatic braking...

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
4  Ender    3 weeks ago

The article is talking about vehicle safety then goes on to say they survived because of pure luck...

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.1  Freewill  replied to  Ender @4    3 weeks ago
The article is talking about vehicle safety then goes on to say they survived because of pure luck...

It also says, "While the images showed a vehicle that had suffered major damage, Yu said its integrity appeared to have remained intact."

Which is awkward....

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Ender  replied to  Freewill @4.1    3 weeks ago

Doesn't look very intact to me.

 
 

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