This Just In: Crash Test Dummies Prefer Electric Vehicles

August 26, 2013
Josh Goldman
Former contributor

If you follow UCS, you are probably aware that electric vehicles are clean, cheap to fuel, and an important part of our plan to reduce projected oil consumption by half within 20 years. You may not be aware, however, that you can now add another important feature to the list of benefits derived from electric vehicles; safety.

Earlier this week Tesla announced that their Model S was awarded a five-star safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the best overall test score of any vehicle tested. While a five-star score has been attained by other vehicles, the 2013 Model S achieved an overall vehicle safety score of 0.42. This is the lowest score – and in this case lower is better – of any vehicle that NHTSA has tested under a new rating system it began applying to models after 2011. No wonder why Tesla couldn’t help but boast that the machine designed to test how much weight a car’s roof can withstand broke after applying more than 4 G’s of pressure to the Model S. That’s as much as stacking four Model S’s on top of the test model without breaking the roof.

What makes electric vehicles safe?

The Model S and other electric vehicles perform well in crash tests for a variety of reasons.  First, electric vehicles don’t have big engines that can slam into passengers from a frontal collision. With the electric motor in back and a trunk in the front (also known as a “frunk”), the Model S and other electric vehicles have large frontal crash protection crumple zones.  Check out some awesome slo-mo frunk crumpling below.

While the weight of an electric vehicle’s battery is a challenge for engineers trying to extend driving range, they make these vehicles more stable on the road. The Model S’s 1,000-pound battery, for example, sits under the floor of the vehicle, giving it a low center of gravity that makes it exceptionally difficult to roll over. According to Tesla, the Model S’s rollover risk was rated at just 5.7 percent, and the vehicle refused to turn over via normal methods; special means were needed to induce the car to roll.  Thanks to a “double bumper,” the rear crash test also scored well, having caused no permanent disabling injury to the crash test dummies in the optional rear-facing third row.

The graphic below shows the statistical Relative Risk Score (RRS) of Model S compared with all other vehicles tested against the NHTSA 2011 standards. In 2011, the standards were revised upward to make it more difficult to achieve a high safety rating.

This chart shows the statistical Relative Risk Score of the Tesla Model S compared to other vehicles tested against the NHTSA 2011 standards. Found online here.

We’ve come a long way since an electric taxi caused the first automobile fatality in Central Park on a late summer evening in 1899. Safety improvements like seat belts, airbags, and accident avoidance computers have greatly reduced traffic fatalities even as vehicle miles have risen. Modern electric vehicles may continue this trend even further, putting another arrow in the quiver of reasons why driving on electricity is a critical part of a Half the Oil future.

Featured image courtesy of Noah Berger, Bloomberg.