Electric vehicles (EVs) are required to undergo the same safety testing and rigorous standards that apply to conventional cars sold in the U.S. There are also EV-specific standards that apply to the batteries and the chassis. Generally, electric cars have a lower center of gravity and are, therefore, less likely to roll over during a crash.
Plug-in vehicles or electric vehicles are safer than combustion engine vehicles in regard to fire risk and noxious fumes. Because these vehicles do not burn fossil fuels, the risk of a fire is minimal in a crash. In addition, since there is no carbon dioxide released in the combustion process, there is no risk of death due to noxious fumes.
The two significant entities that provide vehicle safety ratings are the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a governmental agency. Each uses its own rating system and criteria. Their results are provided separately and are publicly available to consumers.
The NHTSA uses crash test dummies to test cars in three categories (front crash, side crash, and rollover) and assigns an additional overall rating for the vehicle as well. The scores range from one to five stars, but there is little information about how these ratings are achieved. The NHTSA has not tested the majority of EVs on the road today, but here are the results that they have posted for 2020.
• Bolt — Overall: 5 stars; Front Crash: 4 stars; Side Crash: 5 stars; Rollover: 5 stars
• Model 3 Long Range AWD — Overall: 5 stars; Front Crash: 5 stars; Side Crash: 5 stars; Rollover: 5 stars
• Model 3 Performance AWD — Overall: 5 stars; Front Crash: 5 stars; Side Crash: 5 stars; Rollover: 5 stars
• Model 3 Standard Range Plus — Overall: 5 stars; Front Crash: 5 stars; Side Crash: 5 stars; Rollover: 5 stars
• Model X Long Range Plus — Overall: 5 stars; Front Crash: 5 stars; Side Crash: 5 stars; Rollover: 5 stars
IIHS vehicle safety ratings use four criteria that determine a vehicle’s safety rating, which are:
• Measurements from crash-test dummies
• Airbag performance
• Seat belt effectiveness
• Survival space (the less the passenger compartment of the car is crushed, the better its survival space rating)
IIHS uses two scales. One consists of Poor (P), Marginal (M), Acceptable (A), and Good (G) ratings. The other scale consists of Basic, Advanced, and Superior. These ratings are applied to the following tests:
•Crashworthiness: Small overlap front and driver-side, small overlap front and passenger-side, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraints and seats
•Crash avoidance and mitigation: Headlights, front crash prevention and vehicle-to-vehicle standard system, front crash prevention, vehicle-to-pedestrian standard system
The IIHS tests many models of new cars each year and assigns its Top Safety Picks and Top Safety Picks+ ratings. To achieve these ratings, here’s what the IIHS puts the cars through.
To receive a Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must receive a good rating in all crashworthiness tests, an acceptable or superior rating for available vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention, and an acceptable or good rating for available headlights. For a Top Safety Pick+ rating, the vehicle must pass the same requirements, but the headlights must be equipped as standard.
The criteria for these designations change annually, so the criteria used in 2020 may be different from those used in 2019.
There are six separate crashworthiness tests. Vehicles are evaluated for driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints and seats.
Front crash testing involves vehicles equipped with test dummies going toward a rigid barrier. In side testing, an SUV-sized barrier is plowed into the driver’s side of the vehicle. Test dummies representing men, women, and children are used in various seating positions for these tests.
A vehicle’s rating in these crashworthiness tests is determined by the structural integrity of the vehicle post-crash, the injuries the test dummies sustain, and the effectiveness of the vehicle’s restraints and airbags.
A specially built test dummy is used for head restraint and seat testing. This dummy is equipped with a spring that can simulate neck strain and sprains (whiplash). Dummies are typically placed in the driver’s seat, and a sled is used to replicate rear collisions.
Roof strength testing measures the force necessary to crush the roof by exerting steadily increasing force where the A-pillar meets the roof. Ratings are calculated on a vehicle’s strength-to-weight ratio.
Front Crash Prevention Testing
Vehicles with automatic emergency braking features are tested for the effectiveness of these features. These systems are evaluated to see if they can detect and prevent collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians.
IIHS Headlight Ratings
This category is one that the IIHS takes very seriously. It does rigorous testing, and the rating in this category has been the factor that has kept models away from a Top Safety Pick rating. Each of a vehicle’s headlight options is tested on gradual left and right curves and straightaways, as well as sharp left and right curves.
The distance between the car and the furthest point where the headlights illuminate the road at 5 lux (lumens per square meter) or greater determines the rating. Visibility conditions and the amount of glare the headlights generate for oncoming traffic are also incorporated into the ratings.
LATCH Ease of Use Testing
Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is used in most cars. It is designed to make the installation of child seats easier. Although child seats can be safely installed through the use of seat belts alone, the inclusion of LATCH mechanisms simplifies child seat installation and makes the proper installation of the seat more likely.
Available EV ratings for the 2020 model year include:
• i3 Four-Door Hatchback— This car received a G rating five of six crashworthiness categories, an A in the remaining crashworthiness test, an advanced rating for front crash prevention, and an A rating in child latch ease-of-use testing.
• Bolt Four-Door Hatchback — This vehicle was an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2020.
• Leaf Four-Door Hatchback — This car received a G rating in all three crashworthiness tests it was tested for but was not tested for crash mitigation and only received a rating of M for child latch ease-of-use testing.
• Leaf Plus Four-Door Hatchback — This car received a G rating in all three crashworthiness tests it was tested for but was not tested for crash mitigation and only received a rating of M for child latch ease-of-use testing.
• Model 3 Four-Door Sedan — This vehicle was an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2020.
• Model S Four-Door Hatchback — This vehicle received a poor rating for its headlights.
There are many EV models on the market that are not being tested by the NHTSA or IIHS. This makes comparing vehicles difficult as these are the two major companies focused on safety. Keep in mind that due to the lack of a combustion engine, EVs are safer by default when it comes to crashes. Even though a lot of EV models don’t have these safety ratings, there are a number of options available that do that you can choose from.