Is an electric car safe in a crash?
In 2017 there were over 180,000 vehicle accidents in the UK. While many of these were minor bumps and scrapes, car accidents are a daily occurrence in the UK. While the newest electric (and non-electric) cars come with life-saving kit like autonomous emergency braking systems, it will be years before we can drive on accident free roads.
Search online for electric vehicle accidents and you’ll come across several videos of electric cars on fire, but the reality is very different. In fact, electric vehicles are very safe in a crash.
How safe are electric vehicles?
When measuring both occupant and pedestrian safety, the overriding authority on the subject is the Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme). They are the European vehicle safety body and oversee official safety testing of new cars. Most electric cars on sale today have received the top, five-star, rating from Euro NCAP.
For example, the Renault ZOE, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Hyundai Ioniq and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV all received five-star ratings.
What this translates to is that in an accident they protect both occupants and pedestrians well, and feature technology that aims to prevent accidents, such as autonomous braking if the vehicle senses the driver is distracted and won’t brake in time.
Can electric cars catch fire?
Yes, they can. Like petrol and diesel cars, electric vehicles are at a risk of catching fire. However, while the petrol in a normal car requires a spark or flame to ignite, the lithium-ion batteries on board electric vehicles do not.
Although manufacturers and battery makers have made huge strides in improving vehicle safety, a violent crash in an electric vehicle can still result in the car catching fire. This can happen if the batteries short circuit and heat up. Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to heat and if they warm up too much, they will catch fire.
If one cell catches fire, there can be a chain reaction within the whole battery resulting in the vehicle catching fire.
However, it must be emphasised that manufacturers have made big strides in ensuring this doesn’t happen. Manufacturers like Tesla and Nissan have built in fail-safe circuitry that shuts down the battery when its voltage increases beyond a safe range.
Manufacturers have also provided guidance for emergency crews on how to handle electric and hybrid vehicle fires. They highlight areas that can be cut and areas that cannot – the latter including areas that have high voltage wires running through them.