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Are EVs Safer Than Gas-Powered Cars?

The other day I heard someone on TV make a casual remark, claiming that battery-only electric vehicles (EVs) were inherently safer than conventional internal-combustion vehicles because, “you know, they don't have any gasoline or nasty stuff like that.” (He apparently wasn't referring to crash-worthiness, only “static” safety.) That thought made me wonder: Is it really so?

There's no doubt that gasoline is powerful stuff, with a high energy density by weight and volume; it's about three to 10 times that of the best batteries — in fact, those high-density numbers are gasoline's largest virtue (diesel fuel has higher density numbers than gasoline, see here, but is less volatile, see here).

While EVs do not have gasoline (or diesel) on board, they do have other fluids: various coolants for the battery packs, electronics, and power-control subsystems; fluid for the non-regenerative brake system (regenerative braking is only effective at higher speeds); fluid for the air conditioning; and more.

It's not just the fluids that are a concern in EVs, either. You have that high voltage from battery packs that can also deliver lots of amps, which is a potentially dangerous combination. The batteries themselves have issues, as well, because they are electrochemical energy-storage/delivery subsystems.

The “gasoline is more dangerous” argument doesn't appeal to me. Almost everything has danger and impact; it's just how we learn to live and work with it. The fact is that we have learned to manage gasoline's virtues and vices pretty well. You don't hear about many spontaneous explosions of gasoline cars that are just sitting in the parking lot.

I think the deeper answer to the question of danger is like so many other real-world issues: It depends on your perspective, priorities, and how you assess the risk. After all, you can drill down into the constitute components of almost anything and find trouble: water is composed of two explosive gaseous elements; ubiquitous salt is a combination of corrosive chlorine gas and nasty sodium metal. How we judge danger and impact depends on how broadly or narrowly you look at things, as a recent very non-politically correct article in IEEE Spectrum — “Unclean at any Speed” — made evident.

What do you think? Are pure EVs basically safer “objects” than gasoline vehicles? Or this a case of misplaced perspective?

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted to EBN sister brand EDN.

11 comments on “Are EVs Safer Than Gas-Powered Cars?

  1. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 23, 2013

    It's good that you clarified that the safety question doesnt go beyond the car in question–teh stealthy nature of green cars makes them dangerous for pedestrians anyway! i think that the reason this comment appeals, that they are safer, is that human beings are naturally reluctant to embrace what is new. on the other hand, years of traversing roads without seeing a vehicle on fire tells me that the danger of explosions and such is more in the action adventure movie than a traditional day to day life.

  2. ahdand
    September 23, 2013

    Im not sure about safety here in both categories since both does carry a big risk. I think when you develop a car or any sort of an item, you should consider about the safety first rather than the cost.

  3. jbond
    September 24, 2013

    I wouldn't necessarily say they are “safer” in my opinion. It depends on who is driving them, how they are cared for, etc. There are many factors involved and I don't think I would say they are safer overall but in many incidences they can be safer but there is also the reverse.

     

  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 24, 2013

    One of the points of concern for safety for a Car is the effect of impact. In many accidents that occur on the highways the result of the impact has been usually,, the car catching fire .

    With EVs , in my opinion such instance is unlikely to happen.

    So I would say that EVs are safer than Gas-powered Cars

  5. jbond
    September 24, 2013

    The other problem with impact would be that the EVs are usually much smaller and result in more injuries. There is another angle to look at also.

  6. Daniel
    September 25, 2013

    “The other day I heard someone on TV make a casual remark, claiming that battery-only electric vehicles (EVs) were inherently safer than conventional internal-combustion vehicles because, “you know, they don't have any gasoline or nasty stuff like that.” (He apparently wasn't referring to crash-worthiness, only “static” safety.) That thought made me wonder: Is it really so?”

    Bill, I won't think EV's are safer than gasoline based vehicles.  I know 2-3 incidents happened within last 2 months, where the vehicle got fire due to spark in storage section due to some sparks. I agree that these sparks can ignite fire in gasoline based vehicle too.  

  7. ahdand
    September 27, 2013

    @JBond: Good point indeed since the impact point is very low and the risk is very high. Very much similar to the Nano Car

  8. Himanshugupta
    September 27, 2013

    I have heard mobile battery exploding due to heat and malfunctioning so in a way nothing is safe but general perception is that EVs are safer than Gasolin. EVs are, however, beacon of clean energy.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 27, 2013

    @Nimantha, i like safety over cost as an ideal, but in today's product markets, we don't have an either/or but a both/and. People want it all.

  10. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 27, 2013

    It sounds like we are agreed that, from an objective standpoint, cars just aren't that safe! Guess we better invest in driving lessons. ”  🙂

  11. Daniel
    October 4, 2013

    “I have heard mobile battery exploding due to heat and malfunctioning so in a way nothing is safe but general perception is that EVs are safer than Gasolin. EVs are, however, beacon of clean energy”

    Himanushu, the major advantages are clean energy and less running cost. Saftey depends up on how we are using the vehicle

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