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A Horrifying Incident Shows Off Tesla Safety Standards

A 250-foot plunge over a cliff on the California coast left the car destroyed, but the occupants alive.
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In earlier days, when Elon Musk’s Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Free Report was still struggling to establish itself, a series of accidents and fires received lots of media attention.

Sometimes the incidents even moved the stock price, temporarily.

Musk insisted at the time that Teslas were designed from the start to be the safest vehicles on the road.

And he boasted of vehicle safety tests that he claimed proved the cars are the safest ever tested. Regulators took exception and attempted to get Musk to tone down the rhetoric.

Now, however, a horrifying real-world example has probably done more to enhance Tesla’s safety reputation than any National Highway Traffic Safety Administration test ever could.

A Winding Road Along the Coast

California’s picturesque state Highway 1 winds for hundreds of miles from the northern end of the state all the way to San Diego, hugging the coastline.

Automakers routinely film advertisements on some of the spectacular bridges along the route.

And motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts revel in the chance to travel the especially scenic, and windy, central coastline area south of the Monterey Peninsula. Among other sites, the route passes the San Simeon castle estate built by William Randolph Hearst and the Henry Miller Museum.

But it's not just the central coast that's noteworthy. Just south of San Francisco, the road traverses a particularly rugged stretch of territory that’s come to be known as Devil’s Slide. It’s a rocky promontory that sticks out into the Pacific Ocean between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

The original Highway 1 route was built along the cliff edges, but landslides routinely took out portions of the road, forcing lengthy closures that ran into years in some cases.

Ultimately, the worst part of the route was bypassed by two tunnels constructed a little inland at a cost of more than $400 million.

But even with that, there remain portions of the Devil’s Slide route that are high above the ocean over a roughly two-mile stretch south of the tunnels.

In a recent three-year period, Caltrans said there had been 33 “run-off-the-road” accidents along the stretch of highway that resulted in one death and 24 injuries.

The agency launched an effort to improve safety barriers along the stretch of roadway because of the “risk that vehicles may continue to drive off the highway, causing severe injury or death to motorists and passengers.”

Tesla Plunges Over the Edge

But in a horrifying incident, a Pasadena, Calif., man allegedly drove a Tesla off the road and over the cliff’s edge intentionally, with his family inside, according to police.

The 250-foot plunge saw the car overturn several times before coming to rest in a crumpled mass on some rocks near the ocean’s edge. Rescue workers were doubtful anybody could have survived such a plunge. But with what many are calling a miraculous combination of luck and sturdy construction, all four occupants of the car did survive, albeit with injuries requiring hospitalization.

While the incident has drawn black humor comparisons with Tesla’s stock price, there’s little doubt it also serves as stunning evidence of the cars’ safety standards.

As one twitter user put it, “What a great ad for Tesla.”

Musk himself chose a low-key response, saying in reply to a tweet about the incident, "Good news."

The driver has been arrested on attempted murder and child endangerment charges, according to published reports.