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Are Electric Cars More Likely to Catch Fire?

Electric cars have become commonplace on the roads. But like the ubiquitous smartphone and the difficulty that Samsung Galaxy Note 7 ran into in late 2016, a fiery crash involving a Tesla is still going to make news. The heart of the matter with cars and phones (as well as laptops) is that they use lithium-ion batteries.

Two recent car crashes with fires have stirred the discussion once again. One happened May 10 when a Tesla driven by a German man hit a guardrail in Switzerland and burst into flames. The other was May 9 in Florida where two teenagers trapped inside the fire-engulfed car were killed. Reports of both instances said that car was traveling at high speeds.

Just as safe

According to a news item on CNN, the potential danger of explosion or fires because of the lithium-ion battery system are predicted to be the same or a slightly lower in risk than a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles. These results are based on tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

By the numbers

There were an estimated 174,000 vehicle fires reported in the U.S. in 2015, which is the most recent data available. That works out to be about one fire every three minutes and virtually all of those fires involved fuel-powered vehicles.

Tesla claims a lower number

Despite findings by the NHTSA, Tesla claims that cars using fuel are 11-times more likely to catch fire than its battery-powered vehicles. Tesla backs this up by asserting that 300,000 Tesla cars have driven 7.5 billion miles with 40 reported fires. That works out to be about five fires per billion miles, while traditional gas cars have a rate of 55 cars per billion miles.

What is the risk to drivers and others?

An electric car fire can occur when the battery has a short circuit within one or more of its battery cells, which generates heat. It is the heat that ignites chemicals within the battery, which then creates a rapid and unstoppable increase in temperature.

However, whereas gasoline is known to explode or create fires that quickly escalate, battery fires tend to take time to build-up to the heat that causes the fire. According to warnings provided by Tesla, it can also take up to 24 hours to fully extinguish a battery fire.

The future is here?

While gas-powered engines have been around for more than 100 years, Tesla and other electric car manufacturers will continue to refine the design of their batteries in the coming years. In the meantime, if there is a motor vehicle crash caused by another driver, a faulty battery, or other product, an attorney may be helpful in attaining compensation.


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