Because we see conflicting reports in the news, it’s a question that’s been on everyone’s mind: are electric cars safer than gas/petrol cars? It’s important to realize that what we may hear on the news isn’t an accurate representation of safety—and that a lot of petrol car safety issues generally go unreported.
The good news is that not only are electric cars safer than petrol cars now, but they’ll only continue to get safer over time. Electric cars consistently score well when it comes to safety ratings, and most concerns that come with the lithium-ion battery will continue to disappear as more advancements are made.
It’s important to realize that cars are dangerous. They’re made up of various components that can pose very serious—and even fatal—safety risks.
But, when it comes to electric cars, they have less risky components, making them safer than petrol cars.
It’s important to remember that when any vehicle is released to the market, it has already undergone testing to ensure its crashworthiness. Manufacturers and independent organizations will run an array of tests to demonstrate that the vehicle is safe enough to be on the road.
Testing in Australia and the US has demonstrated that electric cars are not only safe, but also “more crashworthy than their conventionally powered counterparts.” Tesla reports the same—indicating that the Model 3, Model X, and Model S have all achieved the lowest probability of injury based on the US government’s New Car Assessment Program.
Across the board, plug-in electric vehicles and hybrids score significantly better when it comes to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety ratings when compared to gasoline cars.
Let’s take a look at exactly what electric cars safer than petrol cars.
Are they Structurally Safer?
From a structural standpoint, most electrical vehicles are safer than regular cars—and it all has to do with how they’ve been built. They’re much simpler in terms of the number of components needed to run. So, not only do they have fewer components that could be involved in general wear and tear that eventually poses safety risks, but they also have more space within the car.
Because the components and necessary infrastructure takes up less space, different elements can be placed in different places. In a petrol car, the drivetrain is generally placed in one central location, with little room for alternative placing. In an electric car, however, both the batteries and the motor can be placed in various locations. When these are placed behind, beneath, or around the driver, they can end up minimizing risk for certain threats.
If you were to look under the hood at an internal-combustion engine, you would see an array of extremely flammable and volatile liquids all packed together in a tight arrangement. While this is great from a mechanical standpoint, it does pose a lot of risks from a safety standpoint. In 2017 BMW recalled about a million cars because of this reason. This composition caused the cars to combust—when they weren’t even being driven.
Smoke and Fire
When a Tesla catches on fire, it makes it all over the news—so you might be surprised to find that incidences of electric cars catching on fire have been almost non-existent. When you look at conventional gas and diesel cars, these numbers are quite astonishing. A 2018 FEMA report indicated more than 171,500 highway vehicle fires in the United States over a three-year period—virtually all of these were fuel-powered cars.
To extinguish any claims that their cars are worthy of all the news reports over the relatively few fires they’ve experienced, Tesla is confident that fuel-powered cars are more dangerous. They claim that by comparing fires per one billion miles driven puts electric cars at an advantage.
When you compare the 300,000 Teslas that are on the road with the 7.5 billion miles they’ve driven, they’re only associated with 40 fires. Doing the math, that works out to about five fires for one billion driven miles—compared to 55 fires per billion miles in petrol cars.
What About the Batteries?
Lithium-ion batteries are associated with an array of issues—anyone remember all of the smartphones exploding? In fact, it’s what makes lithium batteries so useful that also makes them so risky.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are in everything. From phones and tablets, to laptops and airplanes, these batteries are responsible for making much of modern life possible. This is why they’re so suitable for electric cars, too.
Batteries composed of lithium are excellent at storing energy—lots of energy. When a lithium-ion battery releases small amounts of energy over a period of time, it powers your phone or laptop. When it short circuits and releases a massive burst of energy, it can catch fire.
When used in electric cars, lithium-ion batteries are designed with safety in mind, measures are taken to ensure that they’re installed safely and don’t pose a risk to drivers. However, like with any other piece of equipment we use in our daily lives, mistakes do happen, and human error can result in how these batteries become involved in accidents.
However, even with Tesla fires in the news recently, the company still claims that they’re 11 times less likely to be caught on fire than vehicles powered by combustion engines. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration supports that claim saying that not only are lithium-ion battery systems comparable to gasoline-powered vehicular fuels but most likely actually safer.
It’s important to note too that many electric car manufacturers are working on batteries that are not only cheaper and last longer, but are also developed using enhanced safety measures. High-performance foam and reinforced composites help to safely case the battery packs, keeping them well-protected in crashes. Heat conductive pastes are being used to handle critical heat, preventing the batteries from overheating.
So, even if the batteries in electric cars are perceived to be more dangerous now, their safety will only continue to improve over years to come.
Let us not forget one of the main reasons that electric cars are safer than gasoline-powered vehicles—air quality. Air pollution is responsible for an estimated seven million deaths every year! Smog and air particulate from cars are responsible for a range of threats to health complications, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and cancer. This may be overlooked in terms of safety but is still a very important consideration in a world that’s starting to recognize the value of electrification of our transportation system.
Don’t Forget to Buckle Up
When trying to get from A to B in any vehicle, there’s always a chance something can go wrong. Let’s face it, traveling in anything (a car, a bike, a plane, a scooter, our legs) has risks that sometimes we just can’t avoid.
Every single car on this planet can—and sometimes does—catch on fire or end up in an accident. The newly emerging electric car industry has ended up in the news recently because of spontaneous sparking and yes, this is a concern that manufacturers are working on.
However, it’s crucial that we don’t forget that we’ve had hundreds of years of fires and other safety concerns for regular cars. We’ve had decades to learn how to improve the safety of gasoline-powered cars—and we still have a way to go. So, if electric cars are safer now, they’ll continue to be even safer than petrol cars in the future.