Are Electric Cars Safer Than Their Gas Guzzling Counterparts?
When you think about it, the humble automobile is an inherently unsafe concept. A metal box on wheels hurtling along a freeway at 80mph isn’t really anyone’s idea of safe. Yet as vehicle technology has developed, manufacturers have come up with increasingly clever and inventive ways to keep the occupants of their vehicles safe. These range from obvious and ubiquitous solutions like seatbelts and airbags to more modern inventions like anti lock braking in the ‘80s right through to Automatic Emergency Braking and the increased use of sensors to ensure that vehicles are kept safe when parking and driving. Electric cars are, in many ways just the same as their gas guzzling counterparts although (of course) they differ in many crucial ways. As the automotive industry takes more and more steps towards more intelligent hazard perception and warning systems to make cars safer it begs the question of whether electric and / or hybrid cars are any safer than their gas fuelled equivalents…
Electric cars, the risks
You don’t have to be up to date on the auto accident news to know that cars crash. A lot. In fact cars kill around 30,000 people a year in the US alone. And while any car represents a risk, electric cars represent a particular set of risks especially in a collision. Electric cars are powered by a lithium ion battery just like your cell phone. These batteries have a tendency to catch fire and explode. While the exact same could be said of a car powered by gasoline, the issue with electric cars is the energy density of the batteries. A Tesla Roadster, for example, has no less than 7,000 batteries under the hood of a single car.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that electric cars are inherently less safe than gas powered cars. Just as manufacturers have deployed a range of failsafes to limit fire risks in conventional cars, they have also employed sophisticated failsafes to manage the inherent risks of electric cars including the kinds of sophisticated collision prevention measures employed in modern cars.
The internal combustion engine and fire risk
While it would be silly to overlook the inherent risks presented by an electric car, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a fundamental difference between an electric engine and an internal combustion engine. The flammable liquid electrolyte that burns in batteries is contained in small packages while gasoline is stored in a big tank. This means that electric cars offer more opportunities for the electrolyte to be protected and contained, meaning that even if a fire should break out it’s likely to be isolated and the damage limited. Moreover, these electrolytes are not deliberately set alight as they are in an internal combustion engine. Gas powered engines run hot, while electric engines do not.
Wear and tear
Collision and fire hazard are just two of the factors that can compromise the safety of a vehicle but let’s not forget good old fashioned wear and tear. Gas powered engines have far more moving parts than their electrical counterparts. The more parts there are to become worn or eroded, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong.
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