We Talked To The Tesla Model S Driver Rear-Ended By A 40-Ton Semi

The man driving this Tesla Model S tells The Drive what it feels like to go from from 0 to 40 in 0.1 seconds. Spoiler alert: It makes Ludicrous Mode feel slow.

byLiane Yvkoff|
Electric Vehicles photo

Tesla owners with Ludicrous mode know all too well the feeling of going from a standstill to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, but few know what its like launching from 0 to 40 mph in 0.1 second—which is exactly what happened to Mike Gardner when the Model S he was driving was hit by a 40-ton semi truck on January 29.

“It was nothing like Ludicrous mode,” Gardner said in a phone interview with The Drive. “Launch control is amazing. But this was otherworldly.”

In fact, the impact was so severe he feels lucky to still be a part of this world.

Tesla Model S may have saved his life, he says

Gardner, 48, was on his way to Fountain Valley to sell his silver 2013 Model S to a buyer from eBay when he got caught in stop-and-go traffic near Elysium Valley on I-5, just 15 miles away from his destination. It was a clear, unseasonably warm day on his 200-mile drive south, and he estimates he was traveling at around 40 mph before mid-morning traffic caused him to come to a complete stop on the highway. 

However, the Volvo semi behind him didn’t.

No screeching brakes, no tire marks on the pavement—just the full force of an 80,000-pound truck loaded with roofing materials slamming into his 4,647-lb. electric sedan. Gardner had no control after impact, and was launched into the Ford Fusion stopped in front of him and pushed towards the center divide, where the Model S collided with a car in the neighboring lane.

“It was a four-car accident, and I hit every single one of them.”

Indeed, Gardner is lucky to be alive. When a 40-ton truck (he says he saw the vehicle’s weight rating sticker) hits a passenger vehicle, the laws of physics aren’t in the car’s favor. Despite exponential improvements in car safety, it's difficult to engineer a solution to getting sandwiched by a semi.

Gardner credits his survival in part to the Tesla itself. “I’d be dead,” said Gardner from his home in Fresno, Calif. Had he been in either his or his wife’s sports car, he says, he doesn’t think he would have survived. If it were his ¾-ton GMC truck taking the hit, he guesses he would have lived, but been seriously injured.

He was able to walk away form this wreck only minor whiplash and tightness in his shoulders and lower back, he contends, because of the Model S’s structural integrity and 1,200-lb. flat battery pack that likely prevented the truck’s grill from intruding into the vehicle.

Vehicle interior appears unscathed

Gardner estimates that the heavily loaded truck was traveling between 35 mph and 40 mph when it rear-ended his sedan. The crash caused the two vehicles to overlap, and required two-trucks on each end to pull the two apart. When Gardner examined the damage, he found that his Tesla had ripped out the entire bottom of the trucker’s vehicle. The Volvo’s oil was dripping into the Model S’s trunk.

“The entire weight of the truck was sitting on top of the Tesla,” he observed.

But looking at the cabin interior, you’d be hard pressed to tell that it was in an accident at all. Gardner noted that the force caused his seat to shift back, and the laminated rear window glass buckled upwards, but didn’t shatter.

His Model S did not have the optional rear-facing seats—which, when equipped, is protected by an additional rear bar—but had his three sons been in the second row, he believes that they would have been thrown forward, but otherwise been fine. The Ford Fusion in front of him didn’t receive much of an impact, he said, and none of the other involved parties had any significant injuries. Based on photos sent to The Drive, it doesn’t appear that the airbags deployed.

Driver may buy Teslas for entire family

Gardner says his insurance company has declared his Model S a total loss, which he estimates was worth $51,000 or $52,000 before the crash. He had already purchased a newer Model S prior to closing the sale of his old vehicle, but that may have been just the start of his Tesla purchases.

 “When I got home, my wife said we need to order Teslas for everybody else in the family,” he shared. The business owner’s wife is convinced that the car saved his life, and she would prefer his sons drive around in Model 3s rather than the Mustang and F-150 they currently own. This isn’t idle talk. His wife feels strongly about this plan, and she’s not alone with this line of thought.

“I told her I’d been thinking the same thing on the way home.”