The UK government plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. Due to the environmental issues concerning petrol and diesel, and the cost to fill up a tank rapidly increasing, more and more companies and individuals are opting to purchase electric vehicles.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have exploded into the domestic automotive market in recent years, as major manufacturers cracked the code on producing reliable, competitive models that stand their ground against conventional fossil-fuelled vehicles. The new technology has been welcomed warmly, with large thanks to a shift in public attitude to carbon emissions and the global climate crisis.
But, while EVs superficially share a lot in common with their conventional counterparts superficially, it is a completely different story under the hood – a story that could have consequences, one way or the other, for road safety. How do EVs compare to vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) when it comes to safety on UK roads?
Road Safety – The Statistics
The road has always been a dangerous place for motorists and pedestrians alike, and remains so despite the various laws and provisions in place to protect all road users. According to road safety charity Brake, over 1,500 people are killed on the road each year; a death or critical injury occurs every 22 minutes.
This sobering statistic illustrates well the sheer importance of safety on the road, and the responsibility borne by drivers to act in the safest and most sensible way when it comes to driving. There is also an element of responsibility afforded to manufacturers, who are obliged to provide reliable vehicles with robust safety features and failsafes.
Internal Combustion Engines Vs Electric Motors
Chassis and body design is largely equivalent between petrol-powered and electric vehicles, meaning they share many of the most basic safety features such as crumple zones. The real differences relate to the engines that power each, and the specific risks they pose.
EVs have made the news on more than one occasion, owing to uncontrollable electrical fires that utterly destroyed the vehicles in question. These occur due to short-circuits in the high-voltage battery array, which have the potential to ignite the electrolyte that carries the charge. While the few high-profile stories are scary enough, safety features have already been implemented that all-but eliminate the possibility of a crash causing a burnout.
Meanwhile, ICEs have a lot more moving parts, and hence a much greater potential for a mechanical fault or failure. While an electrical fire may be much less likely or severe, a mechanical failure could result in an uncontrollable vehicle, and an uncontrolled crash. Meanwhile, electric vehicles are much less likely to fail overall.
Electric vehicles are also more popular with thanks to their high-tech offerings. While technological advancements have been observed across the board by automotive manufacturers, newer electric models are enjoying more comprehensive features than their gas-guzzling counterparts.
With regard to the specific risks plaguing EVs, there are bespoke safety measures in the form of pyro-fuses and automated circuit-shunts, while new solid-state batteries are being developed to eliminate the risk altogether. ICE vehicles, meanwhile, inherit increasingly complex sensor arrays to monitor engine health and efficiency.