Electric cars catch fire more than others: truth or myth?

Gianluca Riccio

Transports

By examining the data, we discover the reality about electric car fires: Are they really more dangerous, or is it just a myth?

Last October 6th, emblematic news attracted the attention of many. On a busy street in Istanbul, around 02:30 in the morning, six Tesla cars were engulfed in flames. The driver of the trailer on which the cars were located is certain: the fire started from one of them. It is yet another proof for those who believe that electric cars are more dangerous than others. But is it true, or is it a myth?

Beyond the news and the sensationalism of spectacular images, there is a more nuanced and less alarming reality. Let's dive into an in-depth investigation, including scientific data and expert testimonies, to debunk the myths and discover the truth about the safety of electric vehicles.

Electric car myth
The Istanbul incident.

The safety of electric cars: a burning issue

The recent accident in Istanbul has raised new questions about the safety of electric cars (EVs). With the growing popularity of these vehicles, it is vital to understand the real risks associated with their use, particularly regarding the potential fire hazard.

Concerns about electric car fires, on the other hand, are not new. A series of accidents, all promptly reported by media across the planet, has fueled a narrative that paints EVs as particularly prone to fires. However, it is important to analyze the facts.

Fire Statistics: A Comparison of EVs and Traditional Cars

The safety of electric cars (EVs) can be better understood through rigorous statistical analysis. Here are some key facts:

Incidence of Fires, Norway: According to the Norwegian Agency for Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in Norway, there have been 3.8 fires per 100.000 electric or hybrid cars in 2022, versus 68 fires per 100.000 cars of all fuel types. In short words? In Norway there are between four and five times more fires in petrol and diesel cars than in EVs. You can find the source here.

Sweden - According to data from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), electric cars they are 20 times less likely to catch fire compared to petrol and diesel cars. In Sweden, only 2022% of the fleet of 0.004 electric cars suffered fires during 611.000, compared to 0.08% of the 4.4 million petrol and diesel cars. The data is here.

Mythical electric car fires

Comparison with Traditional Cars

An Australian report by EV FireSafe highlights a 0.0012% chance of an electric passenger car battery catching fire, in stark contrast to 0.1% for internal combustion cars. Find all the data here.

Electric car fires: myth

Tesla data

A report on the safety of Tesla vehicles indicates that from 2012 to 2021 there has been approximately one Tesla vehicle fire every 338 million kilometers travelled (210 million miles). Data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the US Department of Transportation show that there is one vehicle fire in the USA every 30,6 million kilometers travelled (19 million miles).

Electric car fires: myth

Very low frequency, very high seriousness

While EVs are less prone to fires, when they do occur, they tend to require more complex extinguishing methods and can burn at higher temperatures. According to an article published in Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), fires in fully or partially electric vehicles are much more difficult to extinguish completely than fires in vehicles with internal combustion engines. An effective method that allows you to put out a fire in a short time has not yet been developed, and activities in this sector focus on how to minimize the effects. You can find the full article at this link: Methods Used to Extinguish Fires in Electric Vehicles – DOAJ

In short: myth.

Analyzing global data, electric cars show a general trend of being less prone to fires than their internal combustion counterparts. However, public perception often does not match this statistical reality.

These statistics offer a clear picture of the current situation in terms of electric car safety. Of course, the nature of EV fires requires attention and adequate response strategies, but the frequency of fires is largely lower.

The one about cars catching fire more easily is a myth. A fake news. If you prefer the term, it's a hoax. Point.

The problem of perception

Despite the data, however, and excluding those opposed to EVs who take isolated news of these fires as a pretext to support their thesis, the spectacular images of electric cars in flames have an effect. And they contribute to a sense of alarm, even if this perception does not reflect reality.

There is also another, substantial reason behind this "myth". Fires in electric cars tend to be different from those in traditional cars. Lithium batteries, if damaged or defective, can cause a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway“, which leads to intense and difficult to extinguish fires. They are relatively rare, but certainly not a reassuring reason.

The Future of EV Safety: Will Fires Always Be a Myth?

Given the unique nature of EV fires, firefighters are adopting specialized methods to tackle them, including completely submerging vehicles in water tanks (no, this is not a myth). These radical methods respond to the challenges posed by high temperatures and the tendency of these fires to reignite.

Given advances in battery technology, it is likely that safety risks and procedures will change as well. On the other hand, other experts suggest that as the batteries in circulation age, we may see a change in the frequency and nature of fires. Reality, you know, is a complex phenomenon.

At any rate

At the moment, as mentioned, electric vehicles bring with them some less frequent, but unique risks. In terms of fires, however, current data says very clearly that they are less prone to fires than internal combustion vehicles.

The challenge remains to continue to improve safety and fire response technologies, of course. And to inform people, so that they do not fall victim to fake news on the subject, or to hoaxes spread by those who are more frightened by a fire than by 9 million deaths per year due to fine dust pollution.

To report research, discoveries and inventions, contact the editorial team!

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