What is it about the Tesla Model Y that makes it so safe? Explaining the Devil’s Slide crash. [All survived. No fire.]

Screenshot of crash site from California Highway Patrol video, shot from rescue helicopter courtesy: CHP Golden Gate Division Air Ops

All week long I’ve been asked the question, did you hear about the Tesla that flew over the cliff and everybody in it survived? 

I’m sure you heard about the 4 people surviving when a Tesla Model Y flew over the edge of a 250-foot cliff and landed safely without even a fire occuring. It’s like something out of a James Bond movie! And it’s actually related to hard-core engineering and principles of physics. This article will take a quick look at why the Model Y is so safe. Special guest writer Whole Mars Catalog shares the story here with details on the engineering of the vehicle.

  • How high is 250 feet? I compare the 250-foot Devil’s Slide to several spots in Austin. 
  • What is so special about the way the Model Y is made? Whole Mars explains.
  • Why there was no fire. Tesla battery is made to protect occupants.
  • Where is the Y made and how can I get one?

UPDATE: Franz von Holzhausen, Chief Designer at Tesla stated in an interview with Ryan McCaffrey dated January 15,

“Even when somebody wasn’t looking out for their family, Tesla was.”
Franz von Holzhausen


I often share pictures of the view from the cliffs by Austin’s Pennybacker Bridge on my Twitter account.  The bridge is only 100 feet above the water. The cliffs are closer to 250 feet, similar to Devil’s Slide.  Austin’s Shore Condos are 257 feet tall. Imagine a car flying off the top of that!

Special guest writer Omar Qazi of Whole Mars Catalog shares the Devil’s Slide story here with details on the engineering of the vehicle

Crashes along Devil's Slide in California rarely end with survivors. So when Dharmesh A. Patel allegedly attempted a murder/suicide by driving off the cliff with a woman, 4-year-old girl, 9-year-old boy, few had hope. 
Just one problem with Patel's plan: He was in a Tesla.
Brian Pottenger, battalion chief for Cal Fire, had this to say about the rescue: "We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle.” 
As they arrived at the scene, other firefighters watching the sedan through binoculars suddenly noticed movement - a sign that at least one person was still alive. 
"Every one of us was shocked when we saw movement out of the front windshield" — Pottenger 
"The incident turned from what had been likely a recovery of bodies to a rescue operation that took several hours amid constant rain, heavy winds, slick roads and crashing waves" — ABC 7
"Crews pulled the kids out of the back window and brought them up the cliff by hand in a rescue basket using the rope system. They were rushed to the hospital by ambulance with musculoskeletal injuries. They were more scared than they were hurt," Pottenger said.
All four passengers were fully conscious when they were retrieved. How? 
This wasn't just a miracle. It was the result of endless work and effort by the Tesla team to build the world's safest car. 
A car that lets you walk away from even the most horrible situation. 
It starts with the structural design of the vehicle. In traditional combustion engine (ICE) cars, the front of the vehicle is filled with an engine that gets pushed in towards the cabin in the event of a crash. 
EVs like Teslas don't have engines. So the front is a storage & crumple zone.
Essentially the front of a Tesla works as a giant metal trampoline, cushioning the passengers from impact.
But it doesn't stop with just the structural design of the vehicle. Software and over-the-air updates are a big part of what makes Tesla safer than other cars. One example is the computer vision-based automatic seatbelt pretensioner. More about that here.
Using the same vision system that drives the car, the seat belt pre-tensioner can detect that a crash is about to happen and automatically pre-tighten the seat belt ahead of time to protect occupants — like the kids & adults in the Devil's Slide crash. 
Most car companies are done crash testing once they sell the car to you. Not at Tesla. They continuously review data from real crashes to optimize airbags and crash response even AFTER you've picked up the car through continuous over-the-air software updates.

And that's just the beginning. I could go on and on. So as $TSLA faced it's worst single-day performance in history for delivering 15,000 fewer cars than expected (only a record 405,000!), remember this. The lives saved. The murders prevented. That is Tesla. 

Tesla has some of the most brilliant engineers in the world working tirelessly to keep us safe. Even after a 70% drawdown in the last year, I'm proud to own a piece of this company. They're working on things that are important for all of us, and that amaze me every day. Miracles. Brought to you by the Tesla Engineering team.   - Whole Mars Catalog (Omar Qazi)


Tesla batteries are designed to prevent fires and protect the occupants. In this crash down Devil’s Slide there was no fire. You can read the Tesla vehicle safety report, which states,

“Model S, Model 3, Model X and Model Y have achieved among the lowest overall probability of injury of any vehicles ever tested by the U.S. government’s New Car Assessment Program. Much of this has to do with the rigid, fortified structure of the battery pack that is mounted to the car’s floor, which provides a vehicle with exceptional strength, large crumple zones, and a uniquely low center of gravity. Because of their strength, Tesla’s battery packs rarely incur serious damage in accidents. And, in the extremely unlikely event that a fire occurs, the state-of-the-art design of our battery packs ensures that its safety system works as intended and isolates a fire to select areas within the battery while simultaneously venting heat away from the passenger cabin and the vehicle.”


Tesla Model Y won first place for most American-made car in 2022. That’s because Model Y is made in the USA with the majority of parts also made in the USA.

Model Y is also made in Berlin, Germany and Shanghai China. So, depending on where you live, your Y would be made in the factory closest to you. Here’s a link to the official Tesla website where you can purchase a Y www.tesla.com/modely


  • Devil’s slide’s 250 foot drop is extreme. I compared it to the distance from the top of the cliffs at Pennybacker Bridge down to the water, or the top of the shore condos down to the ground. 
  • Model Y is intentionally engineered to be safer than govt requirements. Whole Mars Catalog shares the details of the crash and the engineering that make up the Y. 
  • Model Y is made in the USA in California and Texas. It’s also made to the same high standards in Berlin and Shanghai.
Hike & Bike Trail of East Austin, Colorado River, Courtesy CVSherman
Hike & Bike Trail of East Austin, Colorado River, Courtesy CVSherman

Love to read about Model Y and FSD? Here are more articles…

Model Y: Big Road Trip Advantages Any Tesla is great to take on a road trip because Autopilot makes the journey much easier. But Model Y has two distinct advantages!

If You Haven’t Used Autopilot Yet, Why Not? (3 Essentials) This article is for everyone who has ever thought, “I love my Tesla, but I will never do Autopilot, it’s too scary.”  I am with you, it can be scary. This article covers 3 areas,

  1. Tesla Autopilot is safer than a human driving
  2. Enabling Autopilot during a drive is easy
  3. You can use Autopilot on your daily drives and disable it anytime during a drive

Enjoying Tesla Autonomy What makes a road trip more fun? Tesla Autopilot definitely does! Freeway driving is also safer when there are eight cameras looking out for your family’s safety.

Gail Alfar, author. Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – January 8, 2023. All Rights Reserved. My goal as an author is to support Tesla (the most American vehicle manufacturer) and Elon Musk in both making life better on earth for humans and becoming a space-fairing civilization. Updated on January 15 and January 20, 2023.

Whole Mars Catalog (Omar Qazi), guest author. Published with exclusive permission for What’s Up Tesla.


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