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What to know about EVs and safety

In spite of heavy batteries and fast acceleration, EVs still rate well when it comes to passenger safety

Adam Baumgartner
June 4, 2024
A yellow crash test doll

Because they're so new, we're still learning a lot about EVs and road safety – but what we know so far looks good

I love watching daytime television while tackling some design work – I find the jingles of the commercials to be soothing background noise while I move pixels around. That’s how I saw a promotion for an upcoming segment on a local news station all about heavy, fast and dangerous electric vehicles.

It sounded vaguely threatening in the way local news can. For comparison, it wasn’t quite as alarming as Jolopnik’s “Heavy-Ass EVs Are Going To Kill Us All,” but it got my attention nonetheless.

After all, I just bought an EV – am I driving something that puts others at risk? Will my neighbors hate me because this? After a bit of research, here’s what I found.

Heavier and faster

Lightest to heaviest: Nissan LEAF 3,900 lbs; Hydunai IONIQ 5 4,600lbs; Ford F-150 Lightning 7,500lbs – GMC Hummer EV 9,000lbs

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently raised concerns about the weight and horsepower of EVs entering the market, citing their potential to do more damage than lighter vehicles in collisions.

Jennfier Homendy, the head of the NTSB, commented on the 9,000lb weight of the all-electric Hummer. Its battery alone is 2,900lbs – about the same as an entire gas-powered Honda Civic. And with its WTF mode, the Hummer can go from 0 to 60mph in just 3 seconds.

The Hummer EV is a bit of an extreme example, though admittedly jaw-dropping. A chart from Axios shows that smaller vehicles, like the all-electric Nissan LEAF, are closer to 4,000lbs, while larger EVs like the Ford F-150 are around 6,500lbs. That’s still significantly more than their internal combustion counterparts.

A chart showing that electric vehicles are heavier than their gas counterparts. Ford F-150, Nissan Versa/Leaf Plus and Hydunai Kona

‍The Axios piece cites a report from Nature arguing that policymakers should tax vehicles based on weight, encouraging manufacturers to build lighter.

The main thing weighing EVs down are their batteries, and it’s a challenge that’s already on manufacturers’ minds. Honda, for instance, is working on a lighter type of car battery that it’s hoping to bring to market by 2030. Not only do lighter cars cause less damage in collisions, but they run more efficiently – both buyers and manufacturers want that.

EVs definitely keep passengers safe

At a minimum, every electric vehicle on the market must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, just like gas vehicles.

And that aforementioned troubling vehicle weight? It actually makes EVs safer for passengers than lighter vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Batteries are typically on the bottom of EVs, making their center of gravity lower and reducing the risk of rollovers. Since there’s no engine, some EVs are designed to absorb more impact in the front, meaning passengers take less of the force.

Newer vehicles, more safety features

It’s worth noting, too, that a lot of EVs come with the latest safety technology. This includes cameras and sensors in places you’d never imagine.

I was at Target earlier today, and as I was backing out, my car beeped loudly every time a pedestrian came near – well before I could see them, myself.

Beyond that, most EVs have emergency braking – a fact I learned when I almost bumped into the wall at my new parking spot the first day I owned the car. I confidently ignored the car’s warning sounds until it came to a complete stop on its own, still a couple of feet from the wall.

There are a lot of other cool features, like blindspot detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistant, and (my personal favorite) adaptive cruise control. That last one helps me avoid turning cruise control on and off when I get stuck behind semi-trucks with lower speed limits..

Most of these features fall very short of anything self-driving, which means drivers still have to pay attention to the road. But they add another dimension to safety that helps drivers and their vehicles react if something goes wrong.

All of these features together have translated to strong safety ratings, according to Consumer Reports.

Wait, what about fires?

EVs have also gotten a lot of attention lately for battery fires. Much of that is novelty – since EVs are new, their challenges are still surprising and eye-catching.

There’s less data available on EVs in general, but from what the NTSB has shared, AutoInsuranceEZ concluded that EVs are involved in far fewer fires than their gas counterparts. The insurance company claims that there are about 1,529 fires for every 100,000 gas vehicles. In comparison, they say there are about 25 fires for every 100,000 electric vehicles.

And an IIHS spokesperson told Consumer Reports that crash tests of EVs, “have never resulted in a fire or a spike in battery temperature that would indicate the potential for a thermal runaway event.”

We’ll undoubtedly learn more about EVs and vehicle fires in the coming years, and I’m inclined to believe that the incidents will increase as more and more drivers adopt the technology. But the evidence so far seems to be in favor of EVs.

“As safe as or safer”

There’s definitely evidence to suggest that heavier and faster vehicles can cause more damage in a collision – a trend emerging even before EVs became so prevalent. But when collisions do occur, heavier vehicles fare better when it comes to passenger safety. Outside of weight, EVs tend to be newer, so they often have a ton of features that can help prevent accidents altogether.

All of that is to say, it seems as though today’s EVs are probably at least equal to gas vehicles when it comes to overall safety. In a press release, David Harkey of the IIHS said, "It's fantastic to see more proof that these vehicles are as safe as or safer than gasoline- and diesel-powered cars.”

Personally, I’m glad to know all of this about my car. It was obvious that my Solterra was accelerating much more quickly than my gas car, but I had no idea that EVs were so much heavier, too.

Late adopters might enjoy the benefit of lighter and more efficient models. I’m impatient and the timing felt right, so I got an EV now. Maybe, hopefully, my next EV will be much lighter. I mean it’ll have to be if it’s going to fly, right?

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