Eco-friendly, small cars climbing safety rankings, institute says


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There was a time when the easiest way to have a low carbon footprint was to buy a small car, and many of the electric vehicles were small cars.

Generally speaking, small cars didn’t provide much crash protection. That’s all changed, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which looked at mid- and large-sized vehicles which don’t use gas.

The Tesla Model 3 was the top winner with a safety pick plus award. When it crashes, there are plenty of safeguards.

“Tesla earned the top safety pick plus from IIHS by providing a good level of crash protection in five different crash tests we run,” said David Zuby, the chief research officer for the IIHS.

Tesla Model 3

“We do three frontal crashes. We do a side crash where a barrier smashes into the side of the test vehicle at 31 mph. We do a test of the roof’s strength by crushing the roof. And then we do a simulated rear crash to see if the head restraints and seat prevent whiplash injuries,” he added.

The electric Audi eTron went through the same tests and also won the highest award.

So did the hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo.

Hyundai Nexo

But, with a hydrogen fuel supply, some worry if it could explode like the Hindenburg in a collision?

“In our tests, we didn’t see any compromise of the fuel storage system,” said Zuby. “Hyundai has done a good job of engineering the Nexo to provide protection of the hydrogen tank.”

The Nexo is one of three fuel-cell vehicles that are commercially available in California. California has promoted the technology and is the only state with a network of retail hydrogen-fueling stations.

The Chevy Bolt did well in most crash tests, but had one glaring deficiency with its headlights.

“The principal reason we rated the headlights poor was they created too much glare for oncoming drivers,” said Zuby.

Here’s how the Bolt performed in the IIHS crashworthiness tests:

It earned good ratings in all areas except for the passenger-side small overlap test, in which it rates acceptable.

In that test, the passenger dummy’s movement was less than ideal. After hitting the frontal airbag during the test, the dummy’s head moved toward the gap between the frontal and side airbags, leaving it vulnerable to contact with hard parts of the vehicle interior.

First responders also need to treat crashes with electric cars differently.

“For first responders, there are issues that they need to be aware of when they rescue someone from an electric vehicle,’’ said Zuby. “The obvious one is the risk of electrocution.”

Recently, the institute recently hosted a first-responder training session along with the non-profit National Auto body Council.

The exercise was similar to sessions the council holds all around the country using late-model wrecked cars to help first responders learn what not to cut during a rescue.

“We have to know where those key components are — the electrical hazards within vehicles — so we don’t accidentally set off an airbag that hasn’t been charged or cut into a cylinder.”

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