Are Electric Cars Safe? Here Is Everything You Should Know

Electric vehicles have been proven to be safer than conventionally gasoline-powered cars. Manufacturers of electric cars have to comply with specific regulations that ensure the vehicle design is safe for users.

These cars have increasingly gained popularity because they are good for the environment and help drivers save money. However, they also require an electric power source which is hazardous. Manufacturers are working hard to improve the car’s safety features to reduce the risks.

In spite of all the safety measures taken by manufacturers, there are still many questions surrounding the safety of electric cars and their economical efficiency compared to conventional cars.

Electric Car Safety

Like most unknown technologies, electric cars are a significantly radical departure from the safety and familiarity of petroleum-powered cars. However, these cars have been proven to leave a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to gasoline vehicles.

The safety of these cars is always in discussion and many drivers and potential buyers are curious as to their safety.

To begin with, electric cars run on a combustible Lithium-ion battery. If the power cells in the battery are damaged, they can short circuit and catch fire.

However, even if they catch fire, Lithium-ion batteries give electric cars an advantage over conventional cars because they have a lower risk of explosion compared to gasoline.

Manufacturers also protect the batteries using a cooling shroud that is typically filled with coolant fluid to prevent short circuiting and any external damage.

As an additional safety feature, the batteries are installed in sequence as opposed to installing one large lithium-ion battery pack which prevents malfunction.

Common Safety Concerns with Electric Vehicles

So, what are some of the common safety concerns of electric cars? Let us find out:

Electric Cars Temperature Range

As earlier discussed, electric cars use Lithium-ion batteries which have a lower range of operation. Where most conventional cars operate between -30 degrees celsius to over 50 degrees, electric cars operate between 15 – 45 degrees.

This low temperature range ensures the air, fluid, cooling, and monitoring systems are highly efficient. It is also safer for the battery as well as the vehicle and its occupants.

Electric Cars Thermal Runaway

Electric cars are susceptible to thermal runaway from having large battery packs with more cells and packed capacity.

It is critical to note that each cell contains a flammable liquid electrolyte so when the Lithium-ion cells short circuit, the liquid combusts causing an unstoppable chain reaction. The result is a fire that can reach over 60 degrees in temperature.

While this sounds extremely dangerous in theory, it is a rare occurrence. Manufacturers are working tirelessly to prevent thermal runaway and its impact on electric cars.

It is also critical to remember that the lithium-ion cells in electric cars are safely encased in cooling liquid which prevents thermal runaway and keeps the car safe from combustion even at high speeds.

Electric Cars Electrolyte

The manufacturers of electric cars understand the dangers of combustion posed by Lithium-ion batteries at high speeds. That is why they separate the batteries into small cells and detach them using firewalls.

In case of fire, this separation delays the flames from spreading to adjacent parts. Some electric car engineers are also manufacturing electrolytes that are less risky, less flammable, and which produce less harmful chemicals.

While ongoing development in electrolytes ensures that electric cars remain safe for use, more research is still required to keep users safe

Electric Cars Construction

The construction of electric cars is different from that of conventional cars. In case of an accident, electric cars offer increased occupant safety. However, it is worth noting that affordable electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, Mini Cooper, Hyundai Kona, Hyundai Ioniq, and others are derived from conventional gasoline cars.

These cars have the same crash structure as conventional vehicles, and their electric motors are placed in the space that would normally be occupied by the engine. The battery is also mounted in the back of the car where the gas tank stands.

However, modern dedicated electric cars such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Tesla have the battery pack as a part of the vehicle’s platform in a fashion commonly called the skateboard. This moves the powertrain components from the front and back increasing strength in the passenger cells and efficiency of the crash structures.

Electric Car Motors and Batteries

Compared to combustion engines, electric motors are smaller and lighter. They also need less auxiliary systems and have less inertia in case of an accident which allows drivers to manage movement and boost passenger protection.

Electric vehicles do not spill flammable fuels, oils, and other volatile fluids in case of a serious crash which further increases their safety as they are less likely to explode.

Of course, electric cars deriving their power from Lithium-ion batteries mean they face unique challenges such as risks from the flammable electrolyte solvents which have the potential to overheat and catch fire.

Unlike conventional cars which are more likely to erupt immediately after fuel ignition, electric cars are slower to catch fire. Combustion in an electric car is also less likely to occur upon impact in case of an accident which further reduces the risk for injuries or fatalities as a result of fire.

This extended ignition time also gives the driver time to move the car to a safer environment where it is less likely to cause more damage to other vehicles and their occupants. Most injuries reported in relation to electric vehicles have been as a result of the impact itself and rarely from fires.

Electric Cars Overcharging

One major concern among electric car users is overcharging. The Lithium-ion battery packs are at risk of overheating when being recharged. While conventional cars use a pressure click to notify the driver that the tank is full, electric cars talk to the charging station to limit charging beyond 80%.

Charging the last portion of the battery requires a lot of pressure which generates a lot of heat in the battery. It is recommended that drivers use low output connections such as a wall box at home rather than the ultra-rapid charging stations to safely fill the last 20% of the battery capacity.

It is worth noting that electric car manufacturers are working towards preventing thermal runaway in electric vehicles. The latest electric car models come fitted with thermal management systems that manage the battery operating level and keep it within a certain temperature range.

Some electric cars are also built to redirect cool air around the battery which maintains a stable environment. Advanced electric vehicles have a dedicated liquid cooling circuit similar to a conventional radiator system in conventional combustion engines.

Electric Car Safety Rating

Most electric cars on the market have been proven safe by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests and analyses of injury claims. To achieve top safety ratings, electric cars must earn good ratings in six crash tests conducted by the IIHS including:

  • Driver-side and passenger-side small overlap front
  • Moderate overlap front
  • Head restraints
  • Side strength
  • Roof strength
  • Front crash and headlamp prevention systems

Does the Handling of Electric Cars Boost Its Safety Ratings

Electric cars have their batteries installed at the base of the car. The batteries are usually the heaviest component and positioning them at the bottom of the vehicle drops the center of gravity.

As a result, weight is distributed evenly between the axles improving the driving experience for most drivers which makes the electric car safer and more enjoyable to drive. Reduced weight beyond the axles also reduces potential problems.

Are Electric Cars Safe in an Accident?

It is critical to remember that electric cars are designed to meet strict safety regulations. However, safety in case of an accident remains a key area of concern for many potential buyers.

As earlier discussed, thermal runaway occurs when the Lithium-ion batteries in an electric car short circuit and ignite the electrolyte inside the batteries. However, this is highly unlikely. The latest generation of electric cars is designed to avoid thermal runaway.

The batteries are mounted in a crash resistant design and placed away from areas that might be impacted in case of a collision. In some electric cars, manufacturers install severe partial offset crash blocks that prevent the battery from getting struck by the front wheels in case of a frontal collision.

Are Electric Cars Safer Than Gasoline-Powered Cars?

Every year, cars kill over 30,000 people in the United States. Their weight, speed, and momentum backed by a tank of gasoline, makes them potential explosives. On this point alone, electric cars are much safer as they do not carry any gasoline reducing the risk of explosion significantly.

Car manufacturers strive to develop systems that not only increase the safety of cars but also save lives. As we transition from gas-driven to electric cars, we are moving towards more safety on the roads.

To combat the likelihood of the Lithium-ion batteries in electric cars going nuclear, manufacturers are working on precautionary devices such as circuit breakers, fuses, and more that disconnect the batteries in case of a collision.

Electric cars such as Tesla and the Ford Focus Electric model also have radiator-chilled coolant which keeps temperatures low and prevents explosion. The Nissan LEAF model has incorporated an air-cooling system also designed to lower temperatures in the battery pack.

However, as with any emerging technology, there could be potential risks yet to be discovered. Electric cars are set to take over our roads and manufacturers need to invest in more research to determine their safety.

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