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Are electric vehicles safer than gas-powered cars? Maybe for the passengers—but not for everyone else.

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The future of automobiles is electric, but many people worry about the safety of today's electric vehicles.

Public opinion about EV crash safety often hinges on a few high-profile fire incidents. Those safety concerns are arguably misplaced, and the actual safety of EVs is more nuanced.

I've researched vehicle safety for more than two decades, focusing on the biomechanics of impact injuries in motor vehicle crashes. Here's my take on how well the current crop of EVs protects people:

The burning question

EVs and internal combustion vehicles undergo the same crash-testing procedures to evaluate their crashworthiness and occupant protection. These tests are conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration's New Car Assessment Program and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

These analyses use crash test dummies representing midsize male and small female occupants to evaluate the risk of injuries. The tests can evaluate fire hazard either caused by thermal runaway – when lithium-ion batteries experience rapid uncontrollable heating – in ruptured EV batteries or gas tank leaks of internal combustion vehicles.

None of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests of EVs have sparked any fires. New Car Assessment Program crash test reports yield comparable findings. While real-world data analysis on vehicle fires involving EVs is limited, it appears that media and social media scrutiny of EV fire hazard is blown out of proportion.

Weighty matters

What stands out about EV safety is that crash test results, field injury data and injury claims from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety all reveal that EVs are superior to their internal combustion counterparts in protecting their occupants.

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