Are Electric Vehicles Dangerous?

Electric Vehicles
Photo: Ed Harvey on Unsplash

When it comes to cars, safety is probably one of your main concerns.

And I’m sure you don’t want your desire to do better for the environment to be at odds with the choices you make to protect your family. That’s why, today, we’re breaking down some of the biggest myths about electric vehicle safety to let you know what you have to worry about and what you don’t.

Welcome to Alternative Power Week! In honor of Earth Day, we’re going to spend the next several days diving into the nitty-gritty of the new, eco-friendly technology powering the vehicles of the future to keep you informed on all the latest changes in the automotive industry. If you have any questions or ideas for a future article, leave your ideas in the comments!

Related: Hybrid Electric Plug-In EV Ecoboost–What the What?!?

Battery Fires

You’ve probably heard of batteries in EVs catching fire in the past few years—and that is definitely an issue that has happened. Some BMW EVs, for instance, were built with debris in the battery cells that could light on fire. The Chevrolet Bolt was investigated for spontaneously catching fire. Some brands, like Tesla, have seen fires while plugged into chargers.

But industry experts have noted that this may seem pressing but is actually  pretty rare phenomenon, one that will become even rarer as the manufacturing process grows more regulated. Only one in 12 million lithium-ion battery cells is manufactured with an issue causing it to light on fire, but the fact that billions of these cells are manufactured each year—and that hundreds or even thousands of cells are used to form an EV’s battery pack—causes the rates of fire to seem inflated.

And part of the problem is that emergency personnel still don’t have a regulated way of handling EV battery fires, since the technology is so new. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently mandating EV manufacturers to complete a standardized guide for fire suppression and battery storage.

As one person put it, battery fires are no more prevalent than gasoline fires in ICE cars—we just tend to hear more about the battery issues because the technology is new.

Crash Safety

In a very general sense, electric cars are no more dangerous in an accident than are their internal combustion counterparts—in large part due to crash test regulations that must be met and sustained across the board for every personal vehicle sold in the world. While there are some electric cars that are less safe than others, this is a pretty standard deviation. It’s the same as one ICE being safer than another in crashes.

There are, of course, unique concerns when it comes to EVs, but a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States and the Australasian New Car Assessment Program found that there were no significant problems with handling an EV after a crash because batteries are so well-protected.

So, it is important to be aware of the fact that batteries can cause issues if penetrated, like leaking high-voltage energy or volatile gases. But in a standard car crash, these issues aren’t going to cause a big issue, because it is incredibly rare that the battery is penetrated.

It’s also important to communicate that a car is electric when reporting an accident to the police in the event that any special precautions need to be taken.

Related: Finally, the Plug-in Hybrid SUV We’ve Been Waiting For: Meet the Toyota RAV4 Prime 

Electric Vehicles Dangerous

Photo: Ed Harvey on Unsplash

Pedestrian Safety

A dangerous car doesn’t just impact the people inside of it—pedestrian safety has also been a big concern regarding electric cars because of how quiet they are. It can be difficult to hear an EV coming at low speeds, especially if there’s a lot of background noise.

There are a lot of different options when it comes to solving this problem. Some EV manufacturers have included fake engine noises as a way to alert pedestrians to oncoming traffic, but this isn’t a popular option among car enthusiasts. That being said, mimicking the sound of an exhaust is a great audible cue that we can all recognize. Other manufacturers just make a more general warning sound, like an alarm. Right now, the United States hasn’t finalized any specific regulations regarding this concept, but you can expect some in the near future.

Related: What It Really Costs To Own An Electric Car

What About Rain or Floods?

It might seem like a silly question, but it’s totally natural to be concerned. We grew up learning that electronics + water = a very bad time, so the concept of an electric car that has to brave variable weather conditions seems to run counter to everything we’ve learned. But you don’t have to worry—automakers have already solved this problem.

The start, the electrical plug and socket in the car are designed to prevent water (or dirt, for that matter) from dripping in, and charging stations are weatherproofed. Plus, EV tech is designed to sense the presence of water in the connections, so if it feels water, it’s going to let you know and not charge.

And you don’t have to worry in floods, either; EVs are designed to be sealed against even strong jets of water and are in fact so sealed up that you can occasionally find videos of EVs floating along in a flood current. If your car is damaged and the battery is exposed, you’re still fine, because the car can tell that damage has taken place and will run a series of tests to see if it can safely run. But if you’re being swept up by flooding, you’re probably not going to be driving very far, anyway.

Hydrogen Safety

Earlier this week, we talked about fuel cell electric vehicles, which produce their electric power via a liquid hydrogen fuel cell. We also talked about the fact that these aren’t the preferred form of alternative fuel transport in the United States; hydrogen cars serve a very nice population in California, mostly.

But it is important to note that hydrogen fuel does present some dangers of its own. Hydrogen can catch fire in a very explosive manner when it comes into contact with, say, oxygen or the spark from someone’s finger. Those flames are then very dim, almost invisible to the naked eye, which makes them very difficult to control. It’s a totally safe form of fuel when used and stored correctly, but that doesn’t always happen—which has resulted in some hydrogen stations exploding.

For your own purposes, it’s not important to worry about FCEV safety unless you live in California or it begins growing as a popular method of alternative power—by which point, it’s likely that many of the dangers will be relegated into nonexistence.

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock