Are Battery-Powered Cars Really More Safe?

There have been recent high profile examples of Tesla’s battery-powered cars catching fire. The most notable example recently being the car of actor Mary McCormack’s husband. The video shot by her husband of the car on fire went viral recently, spurring another round of questions about the manufacturer’s claims that its battery-powered cars are safer than their gas-powered counterparts.

The Associated Press recently claims made by Tesla and its founder Elan Musk to separate facts from fiction. Here’s what it found:

Musk: “According to (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), there was an automotive fatality every 86M miles in 2017 (about 40,000 deaths). Tesla was every 320M miles. It’s not possible to be zero, but the probability of fatality is much lower in a Tesla.”

Fact: There are 272 million vehicles on the road in the U.S., and 150,000 of them Teslas. Tesla does not say how many miles its cars traveled or how many fatalities have occurred in its vehicles. There have been three deaths this year so far, which is in keeping with five deaths in 2016, which is the most recent year with official data.

The lower death rates in Teslas may also be attributable to other factors:

  • These cars are newer, and therefore less likely to break down or cause injury.
  • These cars are more expensive and therefore driven by older more affluent drivers who are less likely to drive recklessly.
  • Teslas often are driven in urban environments where slower speeds translate into a lower percentage of motor vehicle fatalities.

Musk:(from his tweets in reference to a Utah crash): “What’s actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60 mph and the driver only broke an ankle. An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.”

Fact: The ankle injury is true. There is also another example in January where a driver was not hurt despite the fact that the car was traveling on the highway. However, there have also been three deaths in 2018 involving Teslas under similar circumstances.

Tesla: The company claims that Model S sedan scored the highest numerical rating of any vehicle in NHTSA’s (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) crash tests and that the Model X was the first SUV to get a five-star rating in every category.

Fact: Both vehicles received five-star ratings and the Model S received the highest rating number. However, the more demanding Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) review was less glowing. The Model S received an acceptable grade for small front-end crashes and its headlights were also considered subpar. The Model S ranked seventh by the IIHS in medical insurance claims, but the car also had higher collision claim frequencies and cost more to fix than similar gas-powered luxury cars.


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