Are Crashes With Electric Vehicles (EVs) More Dangerous Than Other Car Accidents?
As more people are concerned about the climate impact of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by standard combustion vehicles, they turn to electric vehicle options. With much fewer moving parts and a bevy of advanced tech features, including computerized safety features, it’s no wonder millions of consumers have begun to flock to electric vehicle (EV) models.
As with any technology shift, however, there will be unintended growing pains and safety consequences. Accordingly, a spate of concerning EV crashes in recent years have experts and consumers alike wondering “are electric cars more dangerous?” Only time — and careful statistical analysis — will tell the true answer to that question. Preliminary data suggests that EVs may even be safer than other cars. A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (affiliated with the IIHS) found that, from 2011-2019, the rate of injury claims for occupants of EVs was 40% lower than that of conventional gas-powered vehicles.
Nevertheless, EVs pose unique crash hazards that owners, rescue workers, and the general public must gradually get accustomed to. Any time you have been hurt in an accident involving an EV, including one you were occupying, refer to a Tampa car accident lawyer for guidance.
The following are some of the unique crash risks for electric vehicles that could pose an increased risk of injury or death to pedestrians, EV drivers, EV occupants, and those involved in a crash with an EV.
No Pedestrian Warning
Not everyone likes their vehicles loud, but the putter of a petroleum engine does serve an important safety purpose. Pedestrians and others in the area of the vehicle can hear it as it approaches, and they are better able to track its movements as it crosses through the area they currently occupy.
Silent operation can be particularly deadly when electric vehicles are traveling at low speeds. In response, the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has set a new rule that all hybrids and electric vehicles must emit some sort of audible warning sound at speeds below 18.6 mph. The feature has already made its way into dozens of models produced in the past few years, most often in the form of artificial road noise. Regulators expect the rule to prevent around 2,400 injuries each year. Even still, millions of vehicles already on the road lack the feature, making it possible for a pedestrian to be struck without any prior warning.
Another concern about electric vehicles is that they tend to be much heavier than their traditional gas counterparts. The 2022 Nissan Leaf weighs in at anywhere from 3,516 lbs to 3,934 lbs, depending on the configuration and the type of battery packs included. For comparison, the 2022 Nissan Sentra has a slightly longer wheelbase and larger overall proportions but weighs in below 3,100 lbs in all configurations.
The IIHS notes that heavier vehicles can tend to offer occupants more protection compared to lighter vehicles, but that only applies to those inside the vehicle. A heavier vehicle has more impact force and is harder to stop or maneuver in a collision situation, a difference that can be felt by hit pedestrians and cyclists.
With all that said, the popularity of SUVs and trucks in Florida and throughout the U.S. means that any compact car, electric or not, will tend to weigh less than its bulkier brethren. For comparison, a 2022 Nissan Frontier “mid-size” truck weighs no less than 4,300 lbs, even in its most spartan configurations.
Active safety features like Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are, frankly, not ready for the road. The company even goes so far as to allow its users to “beta test” its latest iterations without any safety training or controlled conditions. Tesla since pulled the most-recent update, which was found to have issues with its auto-sensing technology, but the fact remains that autonomous driving features have not been proven to be universally safe nor formally authorized by the NHTSA.
When used properly, active crash prevention features like lane keep assist and forward emergency braking have been shown to reduce the risks of a crash and the consequences of crashes that do happen.
However, irresponsible, misinformed, or careless drivers can take advantage of these features in unintended ways, increasing the risks of a crash with no human technically at the wheel. Several reports of drivers asleep at the wheel with Autopilot running have hit mainstream news outlets in recent years. In one recent crash, investigators and eyewitnesses allege that no one was at the wheel when the vehicle ran off the road while in Autopilot mode, striking a tree and killing both occupants.
The potential for misuse, abuse, or software errors can all create dangers that do not exist compared to vehicles without these forms of advanced driver assistance.
Exploding and Re-igniting Batteries
One of the biggest concerns surrounding electric vehicle accidents is that the batteries that power them have unique risks of fires and explosions. While gasoline-powered vehicles are, of course, at risk of combustion, manufacturers have made great strides in recent years for preventing ignition of the fuel tank. Reinforcement, shutoff valves, and other safety measures all reduce the risks of fuel igniting or exploding in most collisions.
Electric vehicles, however, have their own sets of concerns in the event of a collision. These vehicles are powered predominantly by lithium-ion batteries, which have a reputation for spontaneous overheating and explosion even when in a compact form in consumer electronics. Most EVs use the same sort of battery technology, albeit multiplied many times. The entire floor of the vehicle is often lined with lithium-ion battery cells. When these battery components become damaged or overheated in an accident, it can lead to a chain reaction known as thermal runaway. Further, batteries that have burned or been seriously damaged can retain heat for days after impact, sometimes spontaneously re-igniting long after the initial fire was doused and the vehicle has been towed away.
The hazards of battery fires, which include risks of explosions and hazardous gas discharges, are catching first responders and towing companies off guard. Many are unaware of the safety techniques required in response to battery fires or lack the necessary training.
Few First Responders Trained in Unique EV Safety Responses
Safety materials from companies like Tesla reveal that novel approaches are needed when it comes to EV fires. The company recommends using 3,000-8,000 gallons of water to douse a single vehicle in order to cool the battery, going as far as to suggest that first responders “always establish or request additional water supply early.” They also suggest for someone to monitor the high voltage batteries’ temperature for “at least 24 hours” using thermal imaging.
Reports of EV collisions document how the vehicles will take much more time and effort to extinguish compared to others, in certain scenarios. Not only that, but many vehicles have caught fire once again while being stored in a salvage yard, sometimes weeks after the initial crash, leading to the risks of environmental damage, toxic emissions, and further human harm.
On top of all of these concerns, it may be possible for damaged batteries to create unsafe voltage coursing through the vehicle. In response to the risk of electrocution, the IIHS says it always “ties off its technicians examining a test-crashed EV with a fiberglass pole to pull them away in the event of an electrification.” Otherwise, the technician may be unable to let go of the vehicle since electrical energy causes you to tense your muscles, tightening your grip on the electrification source.
Because of all of these risks — and the possible unfamiliarity of first responders with recommended safety techniques — EV accidents can pose unique hazards in an accident scenario or even when the vehicle otherwise malfunctions or sustains damage that could lead to overheating, such as water infiltration.
Talk to Tampa Car Accident Attorneys If You Have Been Hurt in an Electric Vehicle Fire or Collision
Darrigo & Diaz, Attorneys at Law, is prepared to represent you when you have been hurt in an electric vehicle accident. We work with experienced accident reconstruction professionals as well as subject matter experts who research unique dangers associated with personal injuries. We will assist you in documenting all of your damages, investigating your injury circumstances, and pursuing the maximum amount of damages from all liable parties.
Electric vehicles may be “cleaner” and safer in some ways than conventional vehicles, but they may be riskier in other ways as a result of their technology. When that technology presents unacceptable risks to consumers, a defective products case could potentially be filed against the manufacturer. You may also be able to hold the EV operator or other parties accountable if their negligence led to your injuries.
Find out how much money your case could be worth and what your next steps could be when you speak with a Tampa car accident attorney during a free, no-obligation case review. Call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free in-person or phone case evaluation now.