Image provided by IIHS

Why The Tesla Model Y & Other EVs Are So Safe

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Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the best-known evaluator of vehicle safety, awards kudos to vehicles that adhere to top safety standards. The IIHS subjects EVs to the same crash tests as conventional cars: full frontal collision, various overlap collisions, and roof integrity tests, among others. All are evaluated according to how well a car protects the occupants in each scenario. As with all cars it tests, the maximum collision speed for an EV is 40 mph. Tests performed by the IIHS show why EVs are so safe, as they hold up quite well in simulated crashes.

The IIHS for 2024 elevated safety testing protocols with tougher crash tests and stricter standards for protecting pedestrians and backseat passengers. And EVs shined.

Our research at CleanTechnica indicates that consumers don’t have to sacrifice safety when they choose an EV that’s cleaner for the environment and that saves them money on fuel and maintenance. In fact, EVs are typically safer than non-EVs.

CleanTechnica’s recent report The EV Safety Advantage outlines how independent vehicle safety evaluations tell a positive story about EVs, how major independent government agencies rate EVs as the safest cars to drive, and how electric vehicles have overall better safety ratings than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Part of the data in our report is drawn from a survey we conducted in August 2023 with a respondent pool of 1,097 EV owners and leasers. The survey offered a lot of insights — it certainly demonstrated that today’s western EV drivers are a confident, self-reliant, and resilient bunch. Nearly all respondents said that it costs far less to run their EV in comparison to what it had cost to run their former gas-powered car (4.7/5 average rating). The respondents weren’t concerned about battery fires (1.6/5 average rating). In fact, they felt EVs were safer than gas-powered vehicles (4.3/5 average rating) — although, their non-EV driving friends and colleagues weren’t quite so sure (2.4/5 average rating).

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For anyone disquieted about EV safety, it’s important to know that commercially available electric drive vehicles must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and undergo the same rigorous safety testing as conventional vehicles sold in the US. In the EU, EVs must be inspected every two years to ensure they are roadworthy. They must have specific safety features, such as a high voltage interlock and a fail-safe mode.

So, when the IIHS awarded some EVs top safety ratings this year, we weren’t surprised about the EV results. Tesla’s Model Y was at the top of the class in safety, earning the highest possible score from the IIHS.

The 2024 Model Y is a crossover SUV. It is considered the standard by which all other entrants in the segment are judged, according to Edmunds, and that comparison may be a factor in why many EVs are so safe. Zippy, quiet, spacious, comfortable, and with ample range, it also contains a bunch of technology features that most EV owners savor.

The Tesla Model Y was in good company among safe EVs. The Genesis Electrified G80 and Hyundai Ioniq 6 also earned the Top Safety Pick+ award. In a category the next step down, Top Safety Pick awards, the Audi Q4 e-tron and Q8 e-tron, Genesis Electrified GV70, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Lexus RZ, Nissan Ariya, Rivian R1T and R1S, and Subaru Solterra got the nod.

IIHS Expectations: More Rigorous than Ever

In a press release, IIHS President David Harkey noted that the safety agency is determined to push automakers to raise the bar in vehicle safety. “We continue to raise the bar for vehicle safety with another significant update to our award criteria. This year’s winners represent the pinnacle of automotive safety, demonstrating exceptional protection for both occupants and vulnerable road users,” he said. The changes to the 2024 award criteria are designed to push automakers to pursue higher levels of safety.

The IIHS’ safety evaluations now include a tougher side crash test. A heavier barrier travels at a higher speed, closer to the weight of a conventional SUV. Vehicles need an “Acceptable” or “Good” rating in the revised pedestrian front crash prevention test and the updated moderate front overlap test, which now includes a dummy in the back seat to test back seat safety, to qualify for the safety awards.

Even in light of new standards, 71 vehicles managed to grab a Top Safety Pick or Pick+ award, with 22 of those earning the elite+ designation.

Recalls for Safety can Often Be Addressed with Over-the-Air Updates

As The EV Safety Advantage explains, historically, automotive recalls were addressed by the vehicle owner returning to their dealership for service. On today’s EVs, most recalls can be fixed through over-the-air (OTA) software updates. An OTA update is the wireless delivery of new software, firmware, or other data to electronic devices, which in this case is an EV. These updates happen automatically, right from an EV driver’s home, allowing automakers to quickly and conveniently make changes to a vehicle. OTA updates are a more efficient way to fix bugs and update software than to manually upgrade each individual vehicle physically.

The NHTSA issues a “safety recall” to indicate the need to accentuate some aspect of vehicle security and ensure passenger protection. On newer cars, especially EVs, many “recalls” are easily fixable via a software update. For example, Tesla issued 17 recalls in 2022, yet all of those were quick software updates — just one required a physical hardware fix.

Final Thoughts Why EVs Are So Safe

Australians used several measures earlier this year to uncover the safest new car models on sale globally. They sampled vehicles across 6 countries and analyzed overall safety ratings from 3 safety authorities under their Global New Car Assessment Program (Global NCAP). They also identified whether key safety assistance systems were universally standard on each model.

Drum roll, please.

The Tesla Model Y led individual safety criteria ratings. It continues to reign as one of the safest new cars globally, with high ANCAP, Euro NCAP, and NHTSA individual assessment scores. It comes with a reversing camera, AEB, and lane assist systems as standard in all markets.

Tesla’s battery electric vehicles are a good example of the evolution of transportation electrification. A Tesla’s drivetrain has only about 17 moving parts compared to the 200 or so in a typical drivetrain for an ICE vehicle. The difference is even starker when considering the complexity of the piece that powers the car: an ICE engine has hundreds of moving parts, whereas an electric motor typically has just two.

With ICE complexity comes increased driver costs, both at the time of purchase as well as for ongoing maintenance. An EV saves money in the short term on fuel, while making life even more convenient over the long term on maintenance.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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