Are electric and hybrid vehicles more at risk of fire?

A recent fire that devastated the garage at Luton Airport in the United Kingdom raises questions about the role of electric and hybrid vehicles in fire incidents and the difficulties in extinguishing them. 

Bedfordshire’s chief fire officer suggested the fire began with a diesel vehicle, although the cause remains unverified.

The growing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles has coincided with a rise in reported electric vehicle (EV) fires in recent years.

Public concern about the safety of these vehicles has grown, especially as emergency services have had to change their tactics to deal with EV fires.



Several studies have investigated whether EVs are more susceptible to catching fire than traditional combustion cars, or whether they are more challenging to extinguish.

One such study conducted by EV FireSafe, a private company funded by the Australian Department of Defense, found that between 2010 and 2020, there was a 0.0012% chance of an electric passenger vehicle catching fire.

By comparison, petrol and diesel cars had a 0.1% chance of catching fire. Tesla on the other hand reported that, from 2012 to 2020, the chances of one of its vehicles catching fire was one in every 205 million miles driven.

Although this data indicates that EVs are less likely to catch fire than traditional cars, there have been contradictory reports about the risks of EVs.

For one thing, CE Safety found that there has been an increase in the number of EV fires in the UK over the past year.

In Sweden, however, the Civil Emergency Agency noted that EVs were 20 times less likely to catch fire than petrol and diesel cars based on the cases reported last year.



So while studies suggest there is a lower chance of EVs catching fire than traditional cars, reports of EV fires have increased significantly in the UK in the past year.

However, it is challenging to determine whether this is due to unsafe technology or simply a greater volume of EVs on the roads. Monitoring this trend will help determine whether adjustments are needed in the design and usage of electric and hybrid vehicles.

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