Well, it sounds like a valid concern. But always the rush to BAN. Adding some side structure wouldn't make it much heavier, but I think people like the easy in and out of these things.
Sunday May 23, 2010 - NEVs Under Attack - The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is calling for banning NEVs on public roads because of poor the protection they offer in a collision.
Although most people consider the risk of being rear ended because of 25mph top speed limit for a NEV to be the major problem with driving them on city streets where other drivers may be driving at 35 - 45mph. In truth it is very unlikely that someone will come up behind you and ram you because you are only driving 25mph. They may honk at you, they may give you the finger, they may even do unsafe maneuvers to get around you, but they are highly unlikely to purposely drive into you, they aren't going to want to get their nice shiny car scratched.
The problem that the IIHS found was in direct collisions. They did a side impact test using a Smart travelling at 35mph on a GEM and found that the driver in the GEM would "most likely have been killed". This kind of accident is a more likely sort of accident than the example sited above, a driver running a red light and t-boning a car going through on the green.
We have always known that NEVs, by their very nature, have been less safe than normal cars. On the other hand, the top speed of 25mph and only being able to drive on roads with a top speed of 35mph, combined with typical low usage caused by range limitations of about 30 miles per charge, has tended to make NEV accidents pretty rare.
I have heard it said that there has been no fatalities associated with the crash of a NEV and, although I have not been able to confirm this statement, I have also been unable to find any information about fatalities associated with driving or riding in a NEV either.
I don't think that the NEV should be banned from the roads. There are a lot more vehicles on the streets that are much less safe than a NEV. Consider what happens to a motorcyclist when he gets side swiped on the freeway travelling at 75mph, of the bicyclist who gets hit by a car travelling 31mph as the rider crosses an intersection, yet we don't start to ban bikes and motorcycles from public roads do we.
Sometimes we have to accept that people are willing to risk life and limb to drive the vehicle of their choice. In fact, every day we get into our cars and turn on the ignition we risk life and limb and we don't even think about it. We also have to accept compromises for the greater good. We don't ban ICE vehicles from public streets yet the number of people who die from illness related to vehicle emissions each year makes the number of NEV drivers who die in accidents look like a drop in the bucket.
Don't get me wrong. I am not against legislation that makes NEVs safer. I just don't want it pushed to the point where NEV manufacturers have to go out of business because they can't afford to do government crash testing. In any event they would probably just go to building three wheel cars which would register as motorcycles and we would be no better off.
One of the reasons I have been against current MSV laws is that the way most of these have been implemented is to just allow a NEV to go faster. I have always considered that what we need is a good quadracycle law that allows cars that can travel at speeds that are useful in town and, say 45-55 mph, but not on freeways. They should have safety features like seat belts, air bags, front and rear crumple zones, and side impact protection. However, the manufacturer should be able to get certification by using computer simulation rather than having to go through expensive crash tests.
I expect that the IIHS report will present some pressure for states and cities to think about banning NEVs from their streets, We should aggressively oppose any move by our legislature to take such action.