Thinking of making the switch to an electric car? Beyond the price, which is often a sticking point for many, one of the most frequent questions that comes up is just how safe they really are.
A principle concern is the amount of research and development that has gone into these cars. The market is still in its infancy, and although rising fast, in 2020 battery operated vehicles represented a 6.6% market share. On the flip side, conventional motor vehicles have been around for decades, stiff competition and years of experience, regulation and revision have helped to instill a sense of confidence in “the known” – electric cars today are a little less “known”. Are they really to be trusted?
There is more that separates electric and combustion vehicles than simply their method of fuel. Simply be design EVs have advantages over their ICE (internal combustion engine) counterparts; and this is before we start considering the research that is going into new and innovative safety technology enhancements such as improved stability, lane control etc..
Lower rollover risk
EVs tend to have a lower center of gravity than conventional vehicles, due in part to the heavy weight of the large batteries at their base; this centre of gravity makes them much more stable and less likely to roll over. This represents a significant safety advantage, as according to safercar.gov “Rollers have a higher fatality rate than other kinds of crashes, accounting for nearly 35% of all deaths from passenger vehicle crashes”.
Concern over electric vehicle silence
Remember when electric vehicles first started appearing on residential roads and you hardly knew they were there? The UK and EU have similar laws that require manufacturers to install sound-emitting technology to prevent silent electric cars from creating pedestrian hazards at low speeds.
“From 1 July 2019 all manufacturers must install an acoustic sound system in new types of quiet electric and hybrid electric vehicles to improve road safety.”
“Vehicles will now have systems to produce a sound when they are reversing or driving below 20 kilometres per hour” – gov.uk
Better crumple zones
Frontal car crashes cause among the most fatalities of road traffic accidents, when the car runs out of crumple zone. One of the problems of conventional engines is the decompressable engine in the front. With an engine free electric vehicle, manufacturers have a lot more space available in their “crumple zone”.
sold in the United States as well as EV-specific standards for limiting chemical spillage from batteries, securing batteries during a crash, and isolating the chassis from the high-voltage system to prevent electric shock.
Electric vehicles generally have less moving parts and fewer fluids to change than conventional vehicles; a result of this is that they require less maintenance and subsequently there may be less “to go wrong”.
Battery fire concerns
High-powered lithium-ion batteries are pretty flammable – if they catch fire you’re going to know about it. An article published in Fire Technology in 2020 reported: “failure of the battery may be accompanied by the release of toxic gas, fire, jet flames and explosion”.
So far however these fires are very rare. In 2019 the London Fire Brigade dealt with just 54 electric vehicle fires compared to 1,898 petrol and diesel fires. Manufacturers are acutely aware of this and have put a lot of measures into their vehicles to mitigate the chance of the battery catching fire. The casing that holds the batteries are extremely robust and it’s not likely that they’ll break.
One of the leaders in the electric vehicle market, Elon Musk tweeted in 2019: ‘Tesla, like most electric cars, are over 500% less likely to catch fire than combustion engine cars, which carry massive amounts of highly flammable fuels.’
But though a very real risk still remains, there is still room for improvement and manufacturers are constantly innovating to come up with safer solutions that will minimize EV battery fire risk.
Not everyone agrees that electric vehicle fires are more dangerous. According to a representative from the National Fire Prevention Association in America: “I would not say an EV fire is any more challenging or dangerous than a fire in a car with an internal-combustion engine, It’s a different set of tactics.”
Summary – Electric Vehicles Offer Better overall safety
As manufacturers fine-tune their product lines the benefits of electric vehicles are growing all the time. It’s also important to remember that electric vehicles undergo rigorous safety testing and are required to meet the same safety standards as traditional cars.
There have been few serious electric vehicle accidents to date.
Research by the NHTSA in America found that that there is a lower likelihood of passenger injuries in crashes that involve electric vehicles, compared to petrol and diesel vehicles. The research did also find however that the cost of collision repair tended to be higher.
If you were unfortunate enough to be involved in an electric vehicle incident then you want to be sure that the repair shop you find had the appropriate experience. Electric cars are quite a different beast to petrol and diesel cars because of their highly charged batteries. It’s vital that any mechanic know their way around these batteries to ensure safe and efficient repair in event of body damage.