Though we often find ourselves wrapped up in the debate over self-driving cars, that discussion used to be centered on electric vehicles. Now a part of our everyday lives, electric cars are changing the way we interact with the automobiles around us. From the polite sounds they emit to let us know when they are approaching to the charging stations popping up in parking lots around the world, electric vehicles turn the steering wheel of the industry in a new direction.
One of the biggest public concerns about electric cars is their associated safety factor. Technicians must undergo special training to work on these types of vehicles. Typical procedures — even standard maintenance — sometimes evolves into something new entirely. After all, these are new pieces of cutting edge technology. The way we think about the electric car is different than how we understand a traditional vehicle. It begs the question, are electric cars any safer than traditional cars? More safe? Less safe?
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the safety of electric cars and delve into how safe they really are when compared to internal combustion engines. First, we’ll identify some of the common safety concerns you might have about electric vehicles. After that, we’ll discuss further how electric cars can be just as safe as your gas or diesel powered vehicle. Whether you leave this article and think about purchasing an electric car or not, we hope to have at least given you some food for thought.
Popular Electric Car Safety Concerns
One of the biggest fears that some potential buyers have when it comes to electric cars centers around the battery system. Tesla’s electric models seem to have a knack for popping up in the spotlight for this very reason. Whether the battery discharges, and shorts out, or something causes the cells to explode and ignite, the risk of coming back to a burning shell of a vehicle has been real for some owners.
Another concern related to the batteries has to do with shock risk and exposure to electromagnetic fields. We all know that when you go for an X-Ray, you wear lead protection and should only have these procedures done every so often. Does that also mean we should stay away from electric cars for fear of similar risk of harm?
Finally, some consumers wonder about how electric cars perform in the unfortunate case of an accident. There could be potential for the car to ignite due to the high capacity battery pack. If disturbed in just the wrong way, perhaps the batteries could discharge and shock not only the occupants of the electric car, but the other vehicle as well. How do emergency medical responders successfully handle a motor vehicle accident involving one or more electric vehicles?
Safer in a Different Way
“EVs [electric vehicles] must undergo the same rigorous safety testing and meet the same safety standards required for conventional vehicles 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.”
It’s a lot to take in, but basically the fact is, electric cars don’t get any special privileges when it comes to required standard safety equipment. And in fact, these types of vehicles must also have the ability to mitigate any sort of health risk associated with their electrical components.
In regard to the risk of electric shock, most electric cars isolate the electrical system from the chassis so that they are “designed to shut off if they detect a current path to the car’s chassis. Electric cars also have safety disconnects designed to cut power in the event of a collision, short circuit, or other danger.” All this means that you can rest easy that the electric car you drive is not going to become a ginormous taser.
Maintaining the State of the Electric Battery Pack
Perhaps top of the list in terms of concerns about electric cars is the whole spontaneous combustion argument. We mentioned Tesla earlier but the upstart brand isn’t the only one to suffer from this publicity nightmare. On a smaller scale, we’ve seen numerous news reports of smartphone batteries igniting and setting fires. Now take a batter 10,000 times bigger and imagine the potential disaster.
HowStuffWorks.com addresses this issue head-on: “Keeping the batteries cool is also essential; the hotter the batteries, the more likely they are to explode.” Internal combustion engines can overheat just as quickly as electric battery packs, too, especially if they are not cooled correctly. Maintaining a high-functioning cooling system is probably the biggest preventative measure you can take against am unwanted car-b-que.
Engine Placement: The “Frunk”
Have you had your vocabulary lesson yet today? Here’s a new one for you: frunk. Known as the front-trunk, the “frunk” is the same as a bonnet if you’re from across the pond. It describes the open space usually occupied by an internal combustion engine in traditional vehicles. Not just extra storage, the frunk can actually act as an additional crumple zone to help prevent injury in the event of a frontal crash.
Simply put, when “you don’t have to pack that stuff [i.e. the engine components] in front of, behind, under, and around the driver and passengers, you have more freedom to protect them from various threats.” [Source]
Though some might consider the engine to be a hard stop for frontal crashes already, it’s quite a lot of mass to push into the cockpit area. Removing such a large object and replacing it with softer, more cushiony materials can make electric vehicles safer than if they had a typical engine in there. And by being able to move the powertrain components around to different places within the vehicle, “EV safety can be taken into consideration earlier in the design stages” when compared to conventional vehicles. [Source]
That is, unless you’re Mercedes-Benz. The popular luxury marque is poised to release its EQC model, an electric crossover scheduled to hit production in 2020. You won’t find a frunk here though. According to Jalopnik.com, “changing form and function for their EV program would mean they’d basically need even more equipment to manufacture them.” So go ahead, pop the hood. You’ll find a single motor and transmission within the confines of the bonnet, just like you would normally. Because technologizing the heart of a vehicle doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel.
Electric Cars and You
The best way to form an opinion about an electric vehicle is to drive one. There are quite a few available these days and as they become more prevalent, driving an electric car will just be another tool in your skill box. Spend some time with an electric vehicle and decide for yourself.
The truth is, there’s no evidence that EVs are any more dangerous than traditional vehicles. As companies like Tesla (and others) continue to refine their automatic safety and self-driving features, there’s a very real possibility that EVs will soon be considered safer than the alternative options, simply by reducing the chance for driver error.
However, no vehicle — electric or otherwise — will ever be 100% guaranteed safe. But you already knew that.