Sunday, October 13, 2013

Editorial: Holding innovation to higher standards

A little more than a week ago, a car fire occurred outside Seattle, WA. Seems like rather insignificant news, right? Car fires are a daily occurrence around the country and most people drive by them without so much as a second look, although most likely accompanied by some colorful language at the traffic congestion that is caused by the rubber-necking that occurs anytime flashing lights are seen. However, the fact that this car fire was the first involving a Tesla Model S someone warranted national news coverage. The Model S in question was damaged by a large piece of debris that fell off a semi-truck. The debris in question hit at such an angle and with such force that it punctured the extra thick metal casing that houses the battery, resulting in the cooling system for one battery compartment to fail, which ultimately caused the fire.

With all the coverage, one would expect there to have been a fatality, or at the least severe injury, involved. Someone must have gotten hurt or something dramatic must have happened, right? Otherwise, why would we be holding this innovative new technology to a higher standard than the technology we currently have?

But that's the thing - not only was no one injured, the entire incident was rather lacking in drama, according to the driver. As soon as the incident occurred, the car warned the driver that something was wrong and gave plenty of time to safely pull off the highway and over to the side of the road. Then, the driver was able to safely exit the vehicle and await the arrival of emergency services. The fire department, upon arriving on scene, punctured the top of the battery casing, per their standard procedures, which allowed the flames to spread to the front of the car, resulting in the rather large bonfire as seen on YouTube. 

And yet, before the facts were revealed, the news media and the stock market had already spent days speculating on the cause and creating a, excuse the pun, firestorm around the incident. What resulted was a tremendous amount of false information, uneducated guesses, and outright lies that spread quickly over the web, to the delight of EV detractors. Somehow, despite the facts about car fires posted by various reputable sources, indicating you are five times more likely to be involved in a car fire in a gasoline powered vehicle than a Model S, the damage to Tesla's reputation was done and the company's stocks took a hit. 

We, as a society, are so ready to pounce on anything bad we hear about new technology that we often ignore the facts, ignore the reality of the situation. Why should we set a higher bar for this new technology that has the potential to reduce our demand for gasoline, especially because of something as infrequent and random as a car fire, especially given the freak nature of the occurrence? So the next time something random happens, let's wait to allow the facts to come to light before passing judgment. And we should make sure that the media is accountable for the information it disseminates as well as the portrayals it creates when the facts are still pending.

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