In case there was any concern about rules for electric cars, the EPA website is quick to point out that “all light duty cars and trucks sold in the United States must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” The testing, standards, and regulations that apply to gas cars also apply to electric ones. To counteract any public concerns about battery safety, EVs are also “designed with additional safety features that shut down the electrical system when they detect a collision or short circuit.” 

The IIHS, or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), is an independent science and education organization that aims to make motor vehicles of all sorts safer. They conducted two studies that show that EVs are as safe as gas powered cars, and may even be safer when it comes to injury claims. Despite the stellar safety ratings that the org gives to most EVs, there is a concern about the ballooning weights of electric trucks and SUVs when it comes to collisions with lighter, conventional vehicles. We cover that below.

Here are a few more areas of concern, coupled with what the data actually shows. 

Fewer explosions and fires with EVs

Almost everyone remembers the news coverage around the battery recalls for Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona. A lot of negative attention was given to lithium ion batteries, but the fact is that the risk of fire or explosion is greatly exaggerated. Battery electric vehicles actually have the lowest risk of fire, as compared to gas cars and hybrids.

Data from the National Transportation Safety Board and Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that while gas cars saw fires in 1,530 out of 100,000 cars, battery electric vehicles had the fewest: 25 per 100,000. Hybrids, on the other hand, saw the most fires, at 3,475 per 100,000. To be fair, battery fires are harder to put out, sometimes requiring submersion in water, but fire departments around the country are getting training to deal with them.

Another fact that is often overlooked is this: what exactly powers our conventional, gas cars? None other than highly flammable gasoline, which is known burst into flames on impact or with any spark. Meanwhile, high voltage batteries have automatic disconnects in the event of a collision, and there are manual disconnects for emergency responders (and mechanics). Of course, there are still EV fires, and they do still attract a lot of headlines. However, don't let the media scare tactics work - there are far more gasoline fires every day, but they just are not reported.

Lower center of gravity with electric cars

EVs are mostly all built like a skateboard, with the battery pack on the bottom of the car. This gives them amazing cornering and handling, and makes them very hard to flip.

EV battery packs weigh a lot - often 1,000 lbs for a mid-sized pack - and can make electric cars weigh in on the heavy side. Compare this to a gas car, which has a 300 - 500 lb. engine in the front of the car, mounted up off the floor a bit. When a gas car takes a tight turn, the weight of the car shifts from tire to tire, causing instability. This happens much less with a heavier, lower-to-the-ground EV battery. 

This is a surprise safety perk. Not only does it mean that drivers can react quickly and maneuver as necessary, but the extra weight can actually protect passengers in a crash.

EV collision testing

Based on battery weight alone, it’s no surprise that EVs are heavy. We have a whole write up on it! Although this may sound like a negative, it’s been found that drivers and passengers in heavier vehicles are exposed to lower forces in multi vehicle crashes, and insurance data studied by the IIHS shows that “rates of injury claims related to the drivers and passengers of electric vehicles were more than 40 percent lower than for identical conventional models over 2011-19.” This data corroborates another HLDI study. The weight of both hybrids and full electrics is likely protective for passengers in the electrified cars. However, it can pose a risk for passengers in lighter, conventional vehicles, who are more likely to be hit with higher forces in the event of a crash.

Advanced EV tech 

Another reason why EV occupants may be safer is thanks to access to all sort of cutting edge safety tech, much of which comes standard on even base-trim EVs. Plus, safety tech works hard to prevent any crash, which means that everyone on the road can be safer.

For instance, the Chevrolet Bolt is set to be one of the least expensive new EVs in 2023. Here’s the safety package that comes standard:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning
  • Forward Collision Alert
  • Front Pedestrian Braking
  • Following Distance Indicator
  • IntelliBeam, which automatically turns the high beams on and off as needed

Similarly, the Nissan LEAF, long known for practicality over luxury, comes standard with:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking With Pedestrian Detection
  • Rear Automatic Braking
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Blind Spot Warning
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • High Beam Assist

These driver assistance features help keep everyone in the EV safe.

EV designs can be safer

Although EVs are already pretty safe as compared to gas powered cars, once their designs are no longer tied to preexisting gas car layouts, the can be much safer. In a gas car, the engine goes in the front of the car, so it can’t be used as a crumple zone. In an EV, the battery can be placed anywhere, so the front and rear of the car could be used as extended crumble zones to absorb impact and protect occupants. In fact, the most common collision is a rear-end, so having a crumple zone at the front of an EV can be a major benefit.

The main hold-up right now is production. In order to use the same plants and facilities to produce EVs, traditional automakers base the designs off of ICE cars. When an EV is designed apart from their ICE ancestors, even more safety can be designed in. As Mr. Bach of Lucid Motors explains to the New York Times, when an EV is designed from the ground up, without having to share a body style with a gas car, “the huge front trunk area is a perfect crumple zone…We can minimize the pulse, dissipate the energy over a beautiful, harmonious crumple zone.” Similarly, the 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 and both 2023 Rivians - designed as electric cars from the ground up - are rated as IIHS Top Safety Picks+.

Keeping pedestrians safe

Another safety concern relates to EVs' silent ride. Even though this is listed as a top perk for many drivers, it can pose a risk to pedestrians, cyclists, and wildlife who may not notice the car approaching. Early EVs showed a 20% increased risk of pedestrian injury and up to 57% increased risk of collision with a bike.

Starting in 2019, a law went into effect requiring all hybrids and EV to emit a pedestrian warning noise when they are moving under 20 miles an hour - forward or back - to alert nearby people. These low speed running noises are also designed to protect wildlife.

Verdict: Are Electric Vehicles Safe?

Overall, EVs are as safe as any other car on the road, and often much safer. As David Harkey, president of IIHS explains,

“It’s fantastic to see more proof that these vehicles are as safe as or safer than gasoline- and diesel-powered cars…We can now say with confidence that making the U.S. fleet more environmentally friendly doesn’t require any compromises in terms of safety.”