What is the sound of one piston slapping?
What is the sound of one piston slapping?
Illustration for article titled 5 Ways Electric Cars Could Be Safer Than Gasoline Powered Ones?


5 Ways Electric Cars Could Be Safer Than Gasoline Powered Ones." Obviously, this being a car-related article, I clicked.

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I am by no means a principled opposer of electric cars in any way. I have my grievances with the technology, including environmental damage from battery production/transportation to assembly points and range issues, but I am not against electric vehicles in general.

However, as I was readying through these 5 ways electric cars could be safer than gas powered ones, I couldn't help but get a little defensive of good ol' fossil fuel burners, mostly because the reasons given here to support the article title come across as short-sighted and highly subjective. So as a response, here are my objections to each of the 5 reasons given, and please feel free to point out any and all shortcomings, as well as additional reasons in the comments.

1. "Gasoline is concentrated in a single large tank. The flammable liquid electrolyte that burns in battery fires is contained in small packages. That provides more opportunities for protecting the electrolyte and slowing the spread of a fire if one of them has a problem. The recent fires in the Tesla Model S were contained in the front part of the car."

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This irked me on multiple levels. For starters, though the flammable liquid electrolyte in batteries is spread out over multiple batteries, usually the battery packs are concentrated in one area, eg. the trunk, making it essentially no different than one large fuel tank for gas. Also, gasoline by itself is not easily flammable, but needs to be vaporized and/or be exposed to extreme heat. Plus, in the case of battery fires, they are much harder to put out than gasoline fires, as the cores of the batteries will smolder undetected for days, leading to issues such as the well-documented Chevy Volt post-crash combustions.

2. "You don't have to refuel batteries, so there's no pumping of flammable liquids."

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I don't have too much to say about this one, besides that it is an issue of semantics to say batteries are not refueled but rather recharged.

3. "Electric cars have far fewer moving parts than gasoline ones, so there will be fewer things to break down. A large share of the fires in conventional cars are the result of the failure of mechanical parts."

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Yes, a large share of fires in conventional cars are caused by failure of mechanical parts. However, most of the mechanical parts that cause fires are radiators causing engine overheating, or parts such as worn hoses causing fuel leaks. I would hardly call the relative wealth of moving parts in a combustion engine an inherent fire risk. In addition, the #2 cause of vehicle fires is electric system failures, which are definitely not limited to gas powerd vehicles.

4. "During normal operation, you don't set fire to the electrolytes in batteries. But gasoline engines operate by deliberately exposing gasoline to a spark. The engines run hot. It's a tricky mix to manage."

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Gasoline engines do run hot. This is true. And this is why we have radiators in cars. It is a tricky mix to manage, but this mix has been pretty successfully managed for more than 100 years, so again, the fact that gasoline is ignited in a combustion cycle is not an inherent risk of vehicle fire.

5. "And electric vehicles don't emit pollution locally, which will improve air quality in cities, reducing death and sickness especially in countries like China. Pollution from the power plants that are used to charge electric cars is easier to control and monitor than pollution from millions of gasoline tailpipes."

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This might be the worst argument yet, as it is not only short-sighted, but also incredibly selfish. Electric vehicles don't emit pollution locally, but their production for the majority in China, does cause large amounts of damage to the environment. From mining, to transportation, to refining, to battery production itself, all these processes, while not harming our urban centers, do harm the environment in general, which in turn affects us greatly wherever you happen to live in the world. I would argue it is easier to research and develop better catalytic converters and more efficient combustion engines than to produce batteries for electric vehicles on a large scale.

Electic cars in particular, and alternative fuel cars in general are intriguing solutions to the problems of pollution. However, to argue that electric cars are inherently safer than gas powered cars is just not acurate. Even if the article appears on the MIT Technology Review website.

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