Do Electric Cars Pose a Greater Risk of Fires?


May 21, 2018

May 17, 2018 (money.cnn.com) An online article from money.cnn.com examines the risk of vehicle fires in electric cars versus gasoline cars to see if one is more dangerous than the other.

Reports conducted in 2017 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that electric cars have a propensity for vehicle fires that is the same or lower than gasoline vehicles. The National Fire Protection Association calculated that approximately 174,000 vehicle fires occurred in the United States in 2015, which equals about one vehicle fire every three minutes in the country. Nearly all of these fires involved gasoline vehicles.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla claims that gasoline vehicles are 11 times more likely to catch fire than electric Tesla vehicles. Tesla reports that its vehicles have been involved in about five fires for every 1 billion miles driven, while gasoline vehicles are involved in 55 fires for every 1 billion miles driven. Tesla says its lithium ion battery packs only sustain serious damage in “highly unusual or severe” accidents. However, the manufacturer has been in the hot seat recently because of several high-profile Tesla crashes, one of which occurred in Switzerland this month and involved a fire. 

Experts say one of the major differences between gasoline fires and battery fires is the way the two ignite. Gasoline fires break out rapidly when the substance is exposed to a spark or flame. Batteries, however, usually experience a progressive short circuiting and take time to build enough heat to start a fire. This could be beneficial in terms of vehicle occupants having enough time to exit the vehicle after an accident, but it could also mean delayed recognition of a problem. 

Overall, the industry will need more time to understand the pros and cons of battery-powered vehicles in terms of fire and safety. 

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Category: Auto Accidents

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