For most people, safety is one of their highest priorities when buying an electric car. You may have heard about electric car fires or autonomous crashes. Let’s explore whether electric cars are safer than gasoline cars, and which electric cars are the best picks for safety.
In general, due to certain design elements of electric cars like having the battery mounted on the floor, they are considerably safer than most internal combustion engine vehicles. Due to Tesla’s specific focus on safety as their number one priority, they come out on top of the NHTSA ratings. Here are the top 10 safest electric vehicles according to EuroNCAP or NHTSA:
- Tesla Model 3 (2019) (87.5% combined)
- Tesla Model X (2019) (86.25% combined)
- Tesla Model S (2019) (no Euro NCAP score, 5 star in all categories for NHTSA)
- Mercedes EQC (2019) (84% combined)
- Jaguar I Pace (2018) (81.5% combined)
- Audi E-tron (2019)(80.75% combined)
- Hyundai Ioniq (2016) (80.75% combined)
- Nissan Leaf (2018) (80.25% combined)
- Renault Zoe (2013) (80% combined)
- Porsche Taycan (2019) (77.75% combined)
Okay, you saw the headline and now you may be disappointed. You probable already knew that Tesla vehicles are some of the safest on the road; it’s something they’re known for.
What is surprising is when we factor in the price, which I’ve done in the conclusion section of this article, by dividing combined safety score by price.
How vehicle safety is tested
Euro NCAP is the European New Car Assessment Programme. In short, it’s Europe’s version of NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in the USA. They test all kinds of cars, small and large, then rank them in each of four categories as a percentage. The combined percentages that you see above represent the mean percentage across these four categories.
The first category is ‘Adult Occupant’. This gives the vehicle a score based on the impact of an adult drive and passenger in their respective front row seats.
The second category is ‘Child Occupant’. This is very similar to the first category, but is looking at what would happen to two children, aged 6 and 10. Additionally, it analyses the restraints, such as safety seats, which may be fitted to the car as standard.
The third category is ‘Vulnerable Road Users’. It suggests the impact of a front collision on a pedestrian, on their head, pelvis, and leg. Furthermore, it tests the automatic braking system against a dummy crossing the road and a dummy cycling across the road, both in front of the car.
Finally, the fourth category is the ‘safety assistance’ features. It ranks based on four categories: speed assistance, seat belt reminder, lane support, AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) inter-urban.
Why are electric cars safer than their gasoline counterparts?
Usually, electric cars achieve higher safety ratings in official tests than their gasoline alternatives. However, this is not always the case. For example, the highest rated car listed on EuroNCAP’s website in the small off-road category is the Subaru Forester, an internal combustion engine (ICE) car.
There’s a few main reasons which lead to electric cars being safer than ICE cars. Here’s a few examples.
Firstly, the battery. In an ICE car, the engine, which is one of the cars heaviest components, is mounted quite high up the body. It’s either positioned in the front, middle, or less commonly, the back. This results in the car’s centre of mass being about 1/3 of the way up the car from the ground. As a result, when going round corners, the car is more prone to rolling. Furthermore, if the car is rolled too much, it will eventually tip over.
By contrast, electric cars run off batteries. To make best use of the vehicle’s internal space, the battery packs are usually laid out along the bottom of the vehicle, under the seats. In addition to the fact that the battery is very heavy, this layout creates a very low centre of mass. Hence, electric vehicles are very hard to tip over. Tesla even said that when testing the Model X, it broke their testing machine, rendering it virtually roll proof.
Another reason is the lack of engine. Most cars have their engine mounted under the bonnet, in the front of the car. When in a head on collision, the aim of the front of the car is to make the force on the car act over a longer period of time, decreasing the rate of change of deceleration and, hence, decreasing the force on the driver. This is achieved with a crumple zone, where the whole front section of the car is designed to crumple under impact to reduce the force on the occupants of the vehicle.
In an ICE car, the crumple zone is shorter. This is because the engine doesn’t crumple much at all due to its structure. By contrast, an electric vehicle has lots of empty space inside the front of the vehicle which is often utilised by placing a frunk (front trunk) in the place of the engine for storage. As a result, the crumple zone of an EV is able to crumple more, meaning the occupants are less likely to get hurt.
I have written specifically about how Tesla achieves such excellent safety ratings in a previous article, linked here.
What about electric car fires?
Fortunately, electric cars aren’t quite as susceptible to catching fire (or even exploding) as they are made out to be. Tesla claims that, for every billion miles travelled, their cars only report around 5 fires, whereas ICE cars reported around 55. That would make ICE cars 11 times more likely to catch fire than electric cars.
However, this isn’t really a valid conclusion and it only speaks for Tesla, the most popular EV manufacturer in the US, not the countless other manufacturers. There really isn’t enough data to comment with much certainty on this issue. From the data we have, it seems as though electric cars aren’t more likely to catch fire than gasoline cars, and could be even safer.
Either way, electric car fires are not something that you should be focusing on when thinking about buying an electric car. It seems more of an issue blown up by the media rather than anything else.
Why does Tesla come out on top?
You may be wondering what actually makes Tesla’s come out on top of EuroNCAP’s tests. Being more of a technology company rather than a car company, Tesla has one main advantage over its competitors.
As stated above, one of EuroNCAP’s testing categories is safety assistance features. In this category, Tesla scores at the very top, with the Model 3 and X taking joint first place with 94%. The next highest rated car is the Subaru Forester with 78%.
Despite all the news reports you may hear about Autopilot crashes, Tesla has the safest collision avoidance systems on the road by a long way. Tesla even claims that autopilot is safer than a human driver. This is down to the plethora of cameras and sensors around the car, as well as highly advanced software and a neural network that keeps getting better day by day.
Which electric car provides the best bang for your buck safety?
If safety is your number one consideration, but you have a budget to stick to, the indicator you would be looking for is safety score per pound. I’ve created a list of the top 10 electric cars based on this indicator:
- Renault Zoe (2013) (value score of 30.5)
- Nissan Leaf (2018) (value score of 29.9)
- Hyundai Ioniq (2016) (value score of 26.1)
- Tesla Model 3 (2019) (value score of 21.6)
- Mercedes EQC (2019) (value score of 12.8)
- Jaguar I Pace (2018) (value score of 12.7)
- Audi E-tron (2019) (value score of 11.3)
- Tesla Model X (2019) (value score of 10.2)
- Porsche Taycan (2019) (value score of 9.3)
- Tesla Model S (2014) (value score of 9.1 based on 2014 data)
Although the Tesla Model 3 scores highly here, if we’re purely going off safety per unit value, the Renault Zoe wins. If you’re in the USA, the Nissan Leaf would be top of the leaderboard. Of course, there are a multitude of factors to consider when purchasing an EV, but hopefully this will help you in your quest to find the perfect electric car that fits your needs.
To add further to this list, it’s important to consider software updates. Tesla are updating their cars constantly, making them safer and safer over time. Some other manufacturers update their cars over the air, but others do not.