This Just In: Crash Test Dummies Prefer Electric Vehicles

, Senior policy and legal analyst | August 26, 2013, 12:44 pm EDT
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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.

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  • Why would people want to fuel their vehicles from our mountaintops?Electric vehicles are inefficient, pollute, are much less safe then a regular vehicle. Indeed they are better suited for dummies. We need to understand energy and how it works to use it properly. A clean diesel is about twice efficient as an electric vehicle and is fueled from oil from a hole in the ground. The heat is used directly inside the engine not in a furnace that must first boil water then turn a generator then transmit the energy hundreds of miles to temporally charge a battery that will ultimately run a golf cart for 30 miles.

    • Phil S

      With all due respect, you’re very misinformed. EVs pollute far less than even the most efficient gasoline and diesel powered vehicles, even when you account for the carbon emissions from different electric grids.

      And, as this post shows, you definitely can’t claim they’re less safe – an EV was just recognized as the safest vehicle ever!

    • Neal Mock

      Frank, your argument is fatally flawed. It assumes all grid power comes from coal. Our home gets the majority of its power from the solar PV system hanging off the deck. Granted we live near a mountain top here in Tahoe, but we’re mining photons instead of ancient fossilized plant matter. Even the grid in my town is 37% renewables. I loved my “efficient” 1998 diesel jetta until my kids needed to be dropped off at elementary school and I was ashamed of the emissions our car was offering to those young and tender lungs. Just saw a Tesla S plugged in at the EV charging station today at the local park and can see no relationship what so ever to the golf carts which you refer to.

  • Electric vehicles?…the revolution has already passed. We need to rename ‘petrol heads’ to ‘electric heads’, with electric cars arriving in ‘test beds’ like Le Mans, Formula 1, and bikes in the TT..(Not forgetting the landspeed record with Lola earlier this year) electric is here. I do appreciate the comment about $$$’s. That is quite right, they are expensive and a lower priced model will bring more vehicles onto the road…but that’s what Tesla are doing…provability with a high priced model, then produce lower priced models once the infrastructure is in place. That is probably the biggest stall at the moment…infrastructure. Josh, can you write a piece about that?

  • rgw46

    Sorry-special plugs…distance on charge..and the $$$$$….this is not for a working stiff…TOY for the people who have $$

  • richard

    Interesting to learn that the Tesla handles crashes so well. But it is certainly not affordable for me. How about other less expensive electric cars?

    • Thanks for the comment, Richard. The Nissan LEAF, a battery electric vehicle that sells for as low as $21,300 after federal tax savings, also performed well in the NHTSA crash tests and scored a 4/5 star safety rating.