Spend much time looking into electric cars online and you’ll come across the old chestnut that suggests that battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars just aren’t as safe as their gasoline-engined counterparts.
But the two best-selling mainstream electric cars of the year have just put that myth to bed, being awarded the top safety rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for crash protection in front, side, rear and rollover crashes.
2011 Nissan Leaf in IIHS crash test
In what the IIHS calls the “first-ever U.S. crash test evaluations of plug-in electric cars” both the 2011 Nissan Leaf and the 2011 Chevrolet Volt were awarded its highest rating, along with the IIHS Top Safety Pick award.
We’re not surprised. The rival automakers have been battling it out since both cars were announced a few years ago, keen to prove their take on the plug-in car would win consumers’ hearts and wallets. One sure-fire way to do that is with an excellent safety rating.
Prior to the IIHS tests, both cars had undergone rigorous testing at the hands of their manufacturers, putting the all-electric, 5-seat Leaf and range-extended plug-in electric hybrid Volt through everything from standard crash to water immersion tests.
2011 Nissan Leaf electric car during IIHS crash testing
Just like every other car on the market today, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf had to earn their respective safety ratings in the same way that gasoline cars do: with test after test mimicking common front, side, rear and rollover impacts.
But it turns out that the key to the safety of both cars could lay in the heavy lithium-ion battery packs found in both cars. While both cars may look similar to comparable gasoline powered cars on the market, the addition of a battery pack, situated low down in both vehicles, gives them the curb weight and handling stability of a larger car.
2011 Chevrolet Volt in IIHS crash test
And when it comes to being able to withstand the impact of a crash, heavier cars fare better than lighter ones.
Joe Nolan, chief administrative officer at the IIHS explains: “The Leaf and Volt's extra mass gives them a safety advantage over other small cars,” concluding that “eco-minded drivers keen on switching to electric would do well to buy a Leaf or Volt for highway driving instead of a low-speed vehicle if they're at all concerned about being protected in a crash.”
So far this year, a total of 80 other cars have been awarded the IIHS Top Safety Pick award, including 12 other cars made by General Motors and 3 made by Nissan.
The accolade is a clear indication to electric car skeptics that electric cars can be safe and good for the environment too.