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EV fires aren’t as common as combustion engine fires

Amidst two reported electric vehicle fires in Australia this month, it's important to note that these incidents remain rare. 
Amidst two reported electric vehicle fires in Australia this month, it's important to note that these incidents remain rare. 

Amidst two reported electric vehicle fires in Australia this month, it’s important to note that these incidents remain rare. Since smartphones started combusting from lithium-ion batteries, the tech world has been skeptical of EVs. The batteries in electric vehicles are immense compared to smartphones. Are they safe? The question keeps popping up in conversations about electromobility. 

Back to the Aussie incidents

In one instance last week, five cars met their fate after a lithium battery ignited in a vehicle parked at Sydney Airport, with the belief that the battery had been detached due to damage. In another case on the same day, a car caught fire after hitting debris on a road near Penrose, New South Wales, which punctured the battery pack and led to a fire outbreak.Despite these isolated incidents, it’s crucial to put them into perspective. Electric vehicle battery fires are statistically uncommon. Australian firm EV FireSafe diligently tracks electric vehicle battery fires globally. Over the period spanning from 2010 to June 2023, their database recorded 393 verified electric vehicle battery fires across the world. Considering a vehicle population of around 30 million, that’s a small number.Australia reported only four electric vehicle battery fires during that period. Granted, EVs weren’t common in the country during that time. 

What happens in an EV fire?

Electric vehicle fires, once ignited, pose unique challenges. These fires necessitate careful management to ensure the safety of firefighters and the general public. They burn at exceptionally high temperatures, can persist for extended durations, and may reignite even after appearing to be extinguished. Improperly managed battery fires can emit hazardous gases and chemicals over an extended period, underscoring the importance of adequately trained firefighting crews.The comparatively higher fire risk in electric scooters and electric bikes stems primarily from substandard battery design and construction and the use of unapproved chargers. Electric cars and trucks employ similar battery technology but incorporate more sophisticated designs with advanced cooling systems to maintain optimal battery temperatures during everyday operation and recharging. This design difference significantly enhances safety compared to electric scooters and bikes.Given the rising adoption of electric vehicles, addressing fire risks becomes imperative. The recent National EV Strategy has recognized this concern, with the Australian federal government committing to funding the development of guidance on electric vehicle safety, road rescue demonstrations, and fire safety training. 

On to combustion engines

The global push toward more sustainable modes of transport is well underway, with many vehicle manufacturers pledging complete carbon neutrality by 2030. But that doesn’t mean our trusty petrol-fuelled vehicles are going away soon. The roads are predominantly made up of these vehicles. And they’re far more unsafe than their EV companions, unfortunately. A report from May 2023 by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency found that vehicles powered by internal combustion engines were 20 times more susceptible to fires than their electric counterparts in Sweden. Globally, EV FireSafe found that approximately 0.0012% of electric passenger vehicles experienced fires from 2010 to 2023. While comparative global statistics for petrol and diesel vehicles are challenging, EV FireSafe cross-referenced various country reports to estimate a considerably higher 0.1% fire risk for conventional vehicles, more than 80 times the rate observed for electric vehicles.Statistically, EVs are far safer than petrol vehicles. But the current disparity in the number of each type of vehicle skews some of the data, so it’s important to consider those implications. 

About the author

Marce has contributed tech to various prominent publications since 2018, offering a transparent perspective into the tech industry and its effects on its users. She now spends her time developing insightful content for industry players. You know, when she's not gaming or geeking out about the latest fad.

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