For all of the benefits of rapidly improving electric car technology, these new vehicles come with some unexpected dangers. Two stories are attracting national attention this week, indicating that car makers have more work to do on their electric vehicles fleets.
The first problem is one that many readers have likely witnessed: electric cars run so quietly at low speeds that it can be difficult to hear them approaching. This means that they are involved in a disproportionately large number of pedestrian accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration wants car makers to begin outfitting electric cars with distinctive sounds to warn nearby pedestrians when a car is running at 18 mph or less. According to government estimates, this could reduce as many as 2,800 pedestrian accidents every year - many of which involve visually impaired Americans who can no longer rely on their ability to hear an approaching car.
A second problem arises after an electric car is involved in a crash. Because of fundamentally different components, victims and first responders need to be aware of the risk of encountering a high voltage component. Currently, cars do not shut down automatically after an accident and the numerous electrical parts remain active. Structural damage can also expose wires that would not otherwise pose a threat. Many emergency rescue and tow truck crews have suffered dangerous electrical shocks when responding to an electric car accident.
These problems are typical of new technology. In the rush to get new products to market, new designs often miss the subtle but important safety implications that come along with innovation. This translates to dangerous opportunities for serious personal injuries and even death.