Climate change appears to be the theme of the day and, with that, the world is starting to change – in more ways than one.

Following the UK government’s announcement that all new cars in the UK will need to be ‘effectively zero-emission’ by the year 2040, more and more car manufacturers have started releasing fresh designs and models that meet the ‘Road to Zero’s’ criteria. 

As part of this policy, at least half of new cars and 40% of new vans sold in the UK must be ‘ultra-low emission’ by the year 2030. Therefore, in order to reach this threshold, manufacturers have started to shift their attention away from the more conventional petrol and diesel cars, and are instead focusing on the design of lower emission models. 

As a result of this movement, the motoring industry has seen a spate of hybrid plug-ins and fully electric vehicles being released by automakers trying to get a head start on the competition. Companies like Tesla, BMW, Volkswagen and Hyundai have each brought out their own models which are now beginning to flood into the UK market

But just because hybrids and electric vehicles are better for the environment, are they actually safer to drive than petrol alternatives? Or are manufacturers simply rushing to release their models now, instead of focusing on getting the technology right beforehand? 

In this article, we will take a look at the research that has gone before, looking to provide answers to both of these questions and more. Let’s get started. 

Petrol Tank vs. Lithium-Ion Batteries

With a tank full of flammable gasoline and an incredibly hot engine, when you stop and think about petrol cars, they’re almost an explosion waiting to happen. In fact, between April 2016 and March 2017, almost 24,000 road vehicle fires were recorded across the UK, largely taking place as a result of a petrol or diesel vehicle malfunction. 

When you compare these statistics against electric vehicles, it’s clear to see that there is a vast difference. While it can be argued that electric cars have obviously been available for much less time, it is difficult to deny the current statistics; petrol/diesel cars are involved in a lot more fires than their electric-based equivalents. 

That’s not to say electric cars are entirely safe themselves though, as the high-profile Tesla Model S fire proved back in 2013. Rather than relying on a petrol tanks, electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries – like you have in your phone or camera – to run effectively. Like any electrical device, these batteries can short-circuit if they become damaged, resulting in a potential fire when safety precautions aren’t already in place. 

However, the risk of this happening is significantly lower with these types of batteries than it is in petrol tanks. Plus, with the way that electric vehicles are designed, even when these batteries do become damaged and catch fire, they won’t necessarily cause as much damage. 

This is because a number of safety controls have now been added in the design of electric vehicles, designed to neutralise fires before they have the chance to spread. The only downside is that damage caused within electric vehicles typically costs a lot more to fix. 

Stop, look and list-arghhh!

Another argument often heard surrounding the safety profile of electric cars comes as a result of how quiet they are whilst running. Growing up, many children are told to ‘stop, look, and listen’, in order to stay safe from harm. But happens when the car itself is actually too quiet to hear? 

Well, collisions – according to research from the charity Guide Dogs. In their report, they found that electric vehicles are 40% more likely to collide with pedestrians than cars with a regular combustion engine. As such, many manufacturers are now looking for new and improved ways of increasing the audibility of their vehicles. 

However, research from the Transport Research Laboratory appears to contradict the Guide Dog’s findings. According to their study, as commissioned by the Department for Transport, they discovered that, relative to the number of registered vehicles, electric and hybrid cars and vans ‘were 30 per cent less likely to be involved in an accident’ than their petrol or diesel alternatives. 

Therefore, the audibility of electric vehicles may not be as major an issue as it first appears. 

Final thoughts…

So, how safe are electric cars? 

Right now, statistics and research appear to suggest that they are safer than the more conventional types of car. That’s not to say they come completely risk-free though. 

Prior to the government’s 2040 ban coming into effect, a lot more research and development will be required to ensure electric vehicles are as safe as to drive as possible. 


This is a guest post from Annie Button