A persistent prejudice about electric cars is that they easily catch fire. The English quality newspaper The Guardian did some research and came up with remarkable figures.
When a fire breaks out in a place with many cars, electric cars are quickly blamed. These types of rumors are especially persistent on social media. But professional journalism does not go scot-free either. For example, the fire on the Freemantle Highway container ship in July 2023 was soon reported to have probably started in an electric car. Fact checks from, among others knack.bemade short work of this. It appears to be far from certain that an EV caused the fire on the ship.
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Another example was a major fire in a parking garage at London's Luton Airport. An EV was soon blamed for this too. However, investigation of the fire revealed that the fire had started in a diesel car.
The fact that many people think that electric cars are more fire dangerous than cars with a combustion engine may be because fires in EVs are more likely to be picked up and circulated on social media precisely because of the prejudice. In addition, it is true that if an electric car catches fire, the fire is more intense and more difficult to extinguish. Videos of burning EVs on social media therefore have a lot of impact.
The Guardian reported that some politicians are calling for an increase in the insurance premium for EVs for this reason. Some also advocate increasing the space between parking spaces to limit the risk of the fire spreading.
However, if you look at the hard figures, this looks suspiciously like panic football, according to various experts. According to them, there is no reason to assume that electric cars are more likely to catch fire than petrol or diesel cars. In fact, the opposite is the case. To illustrate this, The Guardian cites figures from Norway, Sweden and Australia.
In Norway, the country with the largest share of electric cars in its total fleet, four to five times as many petrol and diesel cars catch fire as EVs.
The Swedish National Safety Authority has calculated that in 2022, 3.8 electric cars and hybrids will catch fire per 100,000. In contrast, there were 68 (!) fires involving cars with combustion engines. The Guardian notes that fires resulting from arson (such as with the Tesla Model S in the article below) are also included in the figures. That makes the comparison a bit complicated.
The Australian organization EV Fire Safe, which falls under the Ministry of Defense, also concludes after extensive research that EVs are much less fire hazardous than cars with a combustion engine.
The risk of an electric car catching fire is 0.0012 percent, according to Australians. For petrol or diesel cars this is 0.1 percent. In other words, almost a hundred (!) times as large. Furthermore, EV studied Fire Safe in 2022 where EV fires most often occur and how they progress. Remarkably, most electric cars (31.7 percent) catch fire while driving.
At the same time, the specialists are aware that fires in EVs are difficult to combat. According to Paul Christensen, professor of applied electrochemistry at Newcastle University, EV fires can cause explosions from chemical vapors and flash fires. Christensen therefore advocates that firefighters receive additional training and equipment to be prepared for this.
At the same time, Christensen indicates that the questionable reputation of EVs among the general public is partly caused by e-bikes and electric scooters catching fire. These usually also have lithium-ion batteries, but are usually tested less stringently for fire safety.
There are also often parts of questionable quality purchased via the Internet and inexpert DIY tinkerers. Christensen therefore warns against charging electric two-wheelers indoors.
All in all, Colin Walker, head of a well-known climate think tank in Great Britain, concludes the following: “All data show that the risk of fire in an electric car is many, many times smaller than in a petrol car.”
This post was last modified on November 20, 2023 3:07 pm
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