Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a distant vision of the future for Australia; they have firmly established their presence on our roads and at Outbound, we’re big fans. Thanks to substantial financial backing from both the private sector and government funding, Australia's transportation sector is undergoing a green revolution that is here to stay.
The transition towards greener transportation is undoubtedly a positive development. However, as this relatively new technology gains traction, it has also raised concerns, particularly about the safety of EVs. Isolated incidents, when blown out of proportion, can lead to the spread of misinformation in the media, leaving some in Australia's automotive community feeling apprehensive.
In this blog, our aim is to address these concerns head-on. We will provide you with current and accurate information about EV safety, debunk misconceptions and fears, and shed light on the promising future of mobility.
In the first half of 2023, the sales of EVs experienced a significant surge, accounting for over 8% of all new car sales. This represents a remarkable increase of more than 120% compared to the previous year. During this period, a total of 46,624 new EVs were added to the roads, surpassing the total number of EVs sold in 2022. As a result, the estimated total number of battery electric vehicles in Australia now stands at around 109,000, along with 21,000 hybrid vehicles (Electric Vehicle Council 2023).
In tandem with this growth, Australia is actively expanding its EV charging infrastructure, with over 967 high-power public chargers at 558 locations (Electric Vehicle Council 2023).
Image: EV charger courtesy of Jolt
The increase in EV adoption has sparked concerns about the safety of EVs, particularly regarding the potential for fires, due to the high-voltage (HV) lithium-ion batteries they use. However, extensive research conducted by the Australia-based research company EV Fire Safe, spanning from 2010 to 2023, reveals a crucial fact: EV lithium-ion battery fires are actually quite rare.
Since 2010, there have been just 393 confirmed cases of EV battery fires worldwide (EV Fire Safe, 2023a). When you consider the sheer number of EVs on the world's roads, with a global total of approximately 22.5 million EVs in circulation, 10 million of which were sold in 2022 alone, these incidents appear to be a rare exception. The global average frequency of EV fires is 5.29 fires per one million EVs (Hassan et al., 2023; International Energy Agency, 2023).
In Australia, which to-date boasts over 120,000 EVs on the road, there have been just six lithium-ion battery fires in EVs. All of these incidents resulted from specific causes that damaged the battery pack, such as arson, home fires, collisions, or impact from road debris. Notably, there were no incidents related to charging (EV Fire Safe, 2023e). In the broader context of EV use, EV fires are indeed highly uncommon.
EV fires tend to receive a disproportionate amount of media attention, which can distort the perception of EV safety when compared to traditional petrol and diesel cars. However, a closer examination of the data reveals a different story: EVs are actually among the safest vehicles on the road, with a lower likelihood of fire incidents.
Global research by EV FireSafe reveals that only about 0.0012% of electric passenger vehicles reported fires from 2010 to 2023. In contrast, when cross-referencing data from various countries, they estimated a considerably higher risk of 0.1% for conventional vehicles, representing an over 80-fold disparity (EV Fire Safe, 2023b). A noteworthy example is the United States, where EVs account for less than 0.03% of annual car fires, with an estimated 55 fires per year, compared to 284,130 fires in ICEVs (Hassan et al., 2023).
The lower incidence of fires in EVs, when compared to ICEVs, can be attributed to several factors. EVs utilize less combustible lithium-ion batteries, while ICEVs use highly flammable gasoline and diesel fuels. EVs also have simpler designs with fewer moving parts, reducing the likelihood of malfunctions leading to fires. Additionally, the location of the fuel source in ICEVs within the vehicle makes it more vulnerable to damage, whereas EV batteries are often situated beneath the passenger compartment, minimizing the risk of damage in frontal collisions (Hassan et al. 2023).
When it comes to EV fires, it's crucial to distinguish between two types: general EV fires and EV battery fires. Managing a general EV fire is similar to dealing with conventional vehicle fires and doesn't require special procedures. However, battery fires present unique challenges for firefighting teams, and this has raised concerns among some people.
Unlike fires in petrol or diesel cars that can be extinguished in about 20 minutes, lithium-ion battery fires in EVs can burn at higher temperatures and for a longer time due to a process called "thermal runaway." This process is challenging to control once it begins and firefighters face the added complexity of accessing the battery, which is typically located underneath the vehicle (EV Fire Safe 2023c).
Image: EV Battery Design courtesy of Tech Space
Extinguishing EV battery fires, therefore, requires specific techniques, including early water application to cool battery cells and the use of larger water volumes (EV Fire Safe 2023d; Gan and Sutcliffe 2022). The good news is that well-trained firefighters are fully prepared to handle these situations safely.
More good news is that EV battery fires typically have a slower ignition rate compared to ICEVs, allowing more time for passenger evacuation during rare incidents. It's worth noting too, that battery involvement in EV fires occurs only 40% of the time, with the most common cause being a collision or debris on the road creating a hole or impaling breach of the battery pack (EV Fire Safe 2023b).
Furthermore, the recent National EV Strategy has acknowledged these concerns, and the Australian federal government is committed to funding the development of guidance on EV safety, road rescue demonstrations, and fire safety training. These initiatives aim to address potential knowledge gaps and enhance EV safety on our roads even further (Australian Government 2023).
Image: Tesla Autopilot, an Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) courtesy of Tesla
The prevalence of EVs on our roads underscores their safety. Strict safety regulations and testing standards ensure that all vehicles, including EVs, meet or exceed established safety norms before they're permitted on the road. Beyond this, EVs are recognized as a top safety choice for several compelling reasons:
Lower Centre of Gravity: EVs offer enhanced stability and lower the risk of rollovers in accidents, thanks to the strategic placement of heavy batteries on the vehicle's floor, resulting in a lower centre of gravity.
Reliable Regenerative Braking: Regenerative braking in EVs not only slows down the vehicle but also recuperates energy. This feature improves stopping distances and reduces the incidence of brake-related accidents.
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): Many EVs come equipped with cutting-edge driver assistance systems. These ADAS technologies play a vital role in enhancing safety by aiding drivers in avoiding accidents and reducing the severity of collisions when they do occur.
High-Quality Construction: EV manufacturers prioritize the use of high-quality materials in their vehicles. This commitment to quality ensures safety and longevity, even in the event of a collision.
(ACT Government 2023; U.S Department of Energy 2023)
Future-proofing buildings for EVs by integrating charging infrastructure and partnering with e-mobility operators, such as Outbound, is a strategic investment that extends beyond mere convenience. It has the potential to elevate occupancy rates, enhance property value, improve energy efficiency, and contribute to sustainability and compliance.It represents both a forward-thinking strategy and a necessary response to the challenges of urbanization and climate change in the 21st century.
EV Fire Safe has assisted the Australian Building Code Board to develop foundational & sensible guidance for the safe use, storage & charging of electric vehicles in buildings. Read it here.
In our pursuit of cleaner and more sustainable transportation, it's essential to approach EV safety with an objective lens and bust the myth that EVs are less safe than traditional vehicles.
The truth is, EVs offer a secure mode of transportation, and this claim is supported by substantial research and a host of advanced safety features. What's even more exciting is that with ongoing advancements in EV battery technology, we can confidently anticipate even higher levels of EV safety in the near future. So, as we navigate towards a more sustainable transportation landscape, EVs are on a secure and promising path.
To learn more about EV Fire Safety, visit EV FireSafe here.
ACT Government (2023) Driving into the future - a guide to electric vehicles . Available at: https://www.climatechoices.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1910995/Sustainable-Household-Scheme-A-guide-to-electric-vehicles.pdf (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
Australian Government (2023) The National Electric Vehicle Strategy, National Electric Vehicle Strategy. Available at: https://www.dcceew.gov.au/energy/transport/national-electric-vehicle-strategy (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
Connelly, E. and Dasgupta, A. (2023) Electric vehicles, IEA. Available at: https://www.iea.org/energy-system/transport/electric-vehicles (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
PASSENGER EV LIB FIRE INCIDENTS (2023a) EV Fire Safe. Available at: https://www.evfiresafe.com/_files/ugd/8b9ad1_01aa449ee5074086a55cb42aa7603f40.pdf (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
EV Fire Safe (2023b) 04 - 02.1 The FAQs & facts about EV fires, Available at: https://www.evfiresafe.com/ev-fire-faqs (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
EV Fire Safe (2023c) 04 - What is an EV fire?, Available at: https://www.e vfiresafe.com/electric-vehicle-fires (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
EV Fire Safe (2023d) 04.9 EV battery fire suppression , Available at: https://www.evfiresafe.com/ev-fire-suppression-methods (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
EV Fire Safe (2023e) How many EVs have caught fire in Australia?, YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQJBlMujlp8 (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
Gan, Tom and Sutcliffe, Elise. (2022) The Truth About Electric Vehicle Battery Fires | Live episode 220317, YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6zQQ8EpghM&t=1609s (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
Hassan, M.K., Hameed, N., Hossain, M.D., Hasnat, M.R., Douglas, G., Pathirana, S., Rahnamayiezekavat, P. and Saha, S., 2023. Fire incidents, trends, and risk mitigation framework of electrical vehicle cars in Australia. Fire, 6(8), p.325.
MSB (2023) Fires in electric vehicles in 2022, MSB. Available at: https://www.msb.se/sv/aktuellt/nyheter/2023/maj/brander-i-eltransportmedel-under-2022/?ref=warpnews.org (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
State of Electric Vehicles (2023) Electric Vehicle Council. Available at: https://electricvehiclecouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/State-of-EVs_July-2023_.pdf (Accessed: 07 November 2023).
U.S Department of Energy (2023) Maintenance and Safety of Electric Vehicles. Available at: https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_maintenance.html (Accessed: 07 November 2023).