The automatically deploying door handles on the outside don't appear to have deployed — the exterior handles on a Model S are electronically activated and remain flush with the door itself when not in use. This is analogous to any car remaining locked on the outside after a crash, keeping people from being able to physically open the door. According to Tesla, "When an airbag inflates, Model S unlocks all doors, the trunk, and extends all door handles." From reports at the scene, this doesn't appear to have happened in this particular accident.
Witnesses also said the airbags failed to deflate, further preventing escape or first responder access, but we have doubts about the feasibility of such a scenario. It's still unclear as to why a driver, if conscious, would be unable to open the door from the inside. In any case, a complete investigation should eventually provide answers as to what really happened.
WATCH: A @Tesla crashes into a tree and bursts into flames in Davie on Flamingo Rd. Unfortunately the driver died on scene according to Davie Fire Rescue. We have @SanelaWPLG on scene working the story. ( via Daniel Dobb) pic.twitter.com/uJCKjWOPJx— Marcine Joseph (@MJ_Reports) February 24, 2019
Speed appears to have been a major factor. Witnesses placed the Model S at "a high rate of speed" when it crashed. Police have apparently corroborated that speed was an issue, as the driver lost control of the car while swerving through traffic. The driver crossed three lanes of traffic before flying up onto the median. The palm trees were not forgiving, and the car reportedly caught fire right after coming to a rest. Local police said an officer tried to break the car's window to get the driver out, but that didn't work either.
The fire department managed to extinguish the flames at the scene eventually, but it was too late for the driver at that point. During transport from the scene, the Model S reignited, a common occurrence with electric cars that suffer damage to the battery.
We asked Tesla for comment and analysis on the accident. Here's the statement we received in response: "We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy. We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles."
TRAGIC ACCIDENT: Firefighters working to put out flames after the driver of a @Tesla loses control and crashes in Davie. Sadly, the driver was instantaneously killed. @DaviePolice believe speed may have been a factor. We have the details coming up on @WPLGLocal10 news at 11. pic.twitter.com/DlwTmDER2t— Sanela Sabovic (@SanelaWPLG) February 25, 2019
Fancy door designs come with high-tech solutions for crashes, like exploding bolts on gullwing doors (the Mercedes SLS AMG). It's worthwhile to note that other manufacturers employ automatically deploying door handles like those on the 992 Porsche 911 and 2020 Range Rover Evoque.
Door handles not opening under non-emergency circumstances have been an issue on Teslas for some time now. Just a quick perusal of the official Tesla forums will turn up many owners reporting issues with the handles not deploying as they're supposed to do.