Affordable all-electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, electric versions of cars like the Kia Soul and high performance cars like the Porsche Taycan are making inroads into the American car market. How safe are these vehicles? Let’s look at the effects having an electric drivetrain has on driving, fueling and crash safety.
Electric vehicles have to meet all the safety requirements of internal combustion vehicles, plus electric safety standards:
– All high voltage connectors have to be built to either be difficult to remove or rapidly drop in voltage once disconnected.
– Wires and connectors must meet stringent isolation standards already in use for industrial and residential wiring.
– Anything that could come in contact with exposed high voltage lines and components must be grounded to the frame.
– All high voltage equipment and wiring have to be clearly marked, aside from the charging port.
– 30 minutes after a crash test, the battery can only spill up to 5 liters of electrolyte, and no electrolyte can reach the passenger compartment.
From an ownership perspective, the almost silent operation of electric motors makes them great to drive. However, it also means pedestrians can’t hear nearby vehicles. The NHTSA is working on an audible alert standard for low speed driving, while companies including GM and Nissan built in sound devices that activate to alert pedestrians.
According to preliminary studies, electric cars are about 1/5th as likely to catch fire as traditional vehicles. This number should go down even further thanks to improving safety standards. However, there was a rash of reports of battery fires when electric vehicles were becoming widespread earlier this decade. This wasn’t due to dangerous vehicles, just the novelty of the fires. Over 150,000 gasoline fires occur in vehicles each year.
The largest of these fires didn’t even involve an electric propulsion system. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy submerged 16 Fisker Karmas waiting at a port to be shipped to dealerships. The resulting salt corrosion caused electrical shorts that led to fires. However, it wasn’t the electric power system that failed in these vehicles. The 12-volt electrical system for the gas engine shorted and ignited gasoline, while the traction battery and motors were untouched.
If you aren’t using a Tesla Supercharger to charge your car, you’re connecting it to a J1772 interface. This standard, created by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), has multiple safety features to prevent shocks and overcharging.
Look at the plug, and you’ll see several pins. The connectors are completely shielded, so there’s no way for water to reach the pins when connected. The communications pins connect last and break connection first. The charge pins are only active when the communications pins are connected and the vehicle requests power. If the plug is pulled accidentally or intentionally, power is disconnected from the charge pins before they’re unshielded.
Batteries are heavy, but they can be placed anywhere in the vehicle. To get the most out of this weight, designers place the batteries low in the frame, adding stability the same way a race car uses ballast weights. The result is a lower center of gravity, which makes the vehicle less likely to roll over.
The instant torque delivery and lack of gears give electric vehicles impressive acceleration. A Tesla Model 3 can keep pace with a V8 Mustang, and the Porsche Taycan can hold its own against million dollar supercars like the Ferrari La Ferrari. This is great for an experienced driver, but it can be deadly for new and careless drivers. Last year, 18-year-old Barrett Riley crashed a Model S while doing well over 100 miles per hour in a 30 MPH zone. His parents are currently suing Tesla for deactivating a speed limiter during repairs that would have kept their son from reaching this speed. Depending on the outcome of this case, now being tried in California Superior Court, automakers may be forced to offer speed and acceleration-limiting options on their electric vehicles.
What Happens in an Accident?
When you crash your internal combustion engine car, the fuel system is shut off automatically by the car’s safety system. Likewise, electric cars have similar systems to cut the electrical connection between the battery and the motors. Connectors are also designed to break away during impact, physically removing the electrical connection. Outside of the electrical system, you are protected by the same safety structures and systems as any other vehicle.
No Matter What You Drive, We Can Fix It
As far back as the 50s land yacht era, Merton Auto Body has been the first choice for collision repair in Wisconsin’s Lake Country. We make auto body repair simple by maintaining I-CAR Gold Class certification and preferred shop certification with most major insurance companies. That means fewer problems getting collision work approved, faster repair times, and quality results. We’re a few miles west of 164-S in Sussex, just a short drive or tow away from Pewaukee, Hartland, and Delafield.