Are Electric Cars Safer than Gas Cars?

You’re driving along the highway when, suddenly, the driver ahead of you jams on the brakes – an accident is unavoidable. The question: if you were given the choice, would you rather be in an electric or gas car?

Fire

We know gasoline is highly flammable, and the threat of an explosion after an accident is very real. But, as most know, Lithium-ion batteries can also explode. Need we be reminded again of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 saga?

If an EV’s battery pack is pierced or severely damaged it could, potentially, explode. This happened to a Tesla Model S in 2013, after some debris, which had fallen from a truck, pierced its undercarriage.

So, are exploding EVs something we need to be worried about? Electric vehicles are relatively new, but early data would suggest they’re less prone to catching fire after an accident.

Fire Rates: Gas v Electric

Americans, using gas cars, drive an average of 3 trillion miles every year, during which time there are approximately 150,000 car fires. This equates to one gas car fire for every 20 million miles travelled.

At the time this data was compiled, electric vehicles had driven a total of 638 million miles. During this time there were just 5 electric car fires. This equates to one electric car fire for every 120 million miles or so of travel.

More data, on a wider scale, is needed on this topic. But, so far, EVs appear to be safer in this regard.

Crash Tests

The National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration (NHTSA) rates vehicles based on how they perform in a series of simulated accidents. For awhile now, EVs and PHEVs have been doing particularly well in crash tests, but why?

Manufacturers don’t need to base the structure of an electric car around a big internal combustion engine. This could play a part in why some EVs react so well in crash tests. EVs also have a much lower centre of gravity, due to battery placement, meaning they’re far less likely to rollover.

When the 2013 Tesla Model S was tested, it scored higher than any other vehicle, in any class, ever. However, the latest Model 3, and BMW’s i3, weren’t top of the class when tested earlier this year.

The Model S still rated well and, according to a Tesla spokesperson, it’s still statistically the safest car to be in:

Model S still has the lowest ever probability of injury of any car ever tested by NHTSA.

It’s not a clear-cut win for EVs and, of course, it depends on what model you’re driving. But early results appear to give EVs the edge over gas cars in terms of safety.

By Robert Bacon
Updated: June 6, 2017