Electric Cars Rack Up Nearly Perfect Safety Ratings

By · June 21, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV was on Tuesday awarded a “Top Safety Pick” award by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It became the first 2017 model-year EV to be awarded as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. Like other previously tested EVs, the Bolt scored high on nearly every crash test but fell short on the quality of its headlights.

While the Bolt earned “Good” ratings (the highest level) for the organization’s five crashworthiness tests, it received a “Poor” rating for its headlights. The IIHS said the Bolt’s headlights “provide fair to good visibility but produce excessive glare for oncoming drivers” and have only fair visibility in curves.

To qualify for the “plus” designation, as in the IIHS’s “Top Safety Pick Plus,” a vehicle must earn good ratings in all five crashworthiness evaluations, have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating, and receive “Good” or “Acceptable” rating for its headlights.

Many of the most popular electric vehicles have excellent scores for most of the crash tests, but fail to get the absolute highest safety rankings either for suboptimal headlights or the small overlap front-crash test that was instated in 2014. The 2017 Chevy Bolt earned a “Good” rating in the small overlap test.

The Nissan LEAF was named a Top Safety Pick in 2011—the first EV to earn that distinction—but lost the rating when the Insurance Institute made the requirements tougher.

Safety ratings of popular electric cars by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Tesla Model S’s headlights, like the Bolt’s, were also rated as “Poor.” The Model S also received only an “Acceptable” rating for the small overlap front-crash test. That evaluation tries to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle, or with an object like a tree, at 40 miles per hour. Since the kinetic energy involved in a front crash depends on the speed and weight of the vehicle, the Tesla Model S’s “Acceptable” rating could be explained by crashes that are more severe than ones experienced by lighter cars.

The Toyota Prius Prime and Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid both uniquely earned the “Top Safety Pick Plus” designations. The Volt received a “Good” score for its headlights and the Prime’s headlights ranked as “Acceptable.”

The Model X SUV has not yet been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety but was awarded the highest rating on the federal government’s crashworthiness testing.

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