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EVs Twice As Likely To Hit Pedestrians As Gasoline Vehicles

For years, the transition from ICE vehicles to EVs has been viewed as a critical element of reducing the more than seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO?) the global transport sector emits each year. The Biden-Harris administration has set an ambitious goal to have up to half of all new vehicle sales in the country electric by the year 2030 as part of the government's mission to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. 

This gargantuan effort might be worth it:  A 2021 study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) comparing lifecycle emissions of ICE vs. EVs concluded that "emissions over the lifetime of average medium-size [BEVs] registered today are already lower than comparable gasoline cars by 66%-69% in Europe, 60-80% in the United States, 37%-45% in China, and 19%-34% in India.'' 

However, as is usually the case with every technology, EVs have their drawbacks, too. 

Not only does your average EV come with a higher sticker price than a comparable gasoline car but also an EV can lose as much as 12% of its range when temperatures drop to 20 degrees, a figure that shoots up to 40% if you turn on the cabin heater.

And now researchers have come up with yet another reason why you might want to rethink trading in your gas-guzzler for a shiny new EV: electric vehicles are more accident-prone. To wit, a study conducted by lead researcher Dr. Phil J. Edwards at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that pedestrians are twice as likely to be hit by an electric or hybrid car than by a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle.

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The study uncovered a pedestrian casualty rate of 5.16 per 100 million miles driven for electric and hybrid vehicles, more than double the 2.4 per 100 million miles recorded for traditional gasoline-powered cars. Insisting that the study is not meant to bash EVs, Dr. Edwards notes that "Electric cars are definitely a thing for the future. They are a wonderful way to reduce air pollutionBut we must mitigate the danger" to pedestrians. EV drivers need to be extra cautious of pedestrians,'' he added.

The researchers have conceded that current crash statistics aren't yet robust enough to reach scientific conclusions. However, they have hypothesized that the relatively quiet operations of an electric vehicle as well as high pedestrian density in noisy urban areas could be major reasons, with pedestrians almost three times as likely to be hit by an electric or hybrid car in these areas. Dr. Edwards suspects that demographics could also play a role, noting that "Younger, less experienced drivers are more likely to be involved in a road traffic collision and are also more likely to own an electric car."

Driverless Cars Safer Than Human Drivers

EVs currently account for less than 1% of vehicles on U.S. roads, implying human casualties associated with the industry are still much lower compared to those attributable to the fossil fuel industry. But with bold predictions that EVs could make up 60-70% of the U.S. fleet by 2050, the significantly higher propensity of electric propulsion to cause accidents could prove highly problematic.

Luckily, there's a handy solution: driverless cars. For years, autonomous driving buffs and experts claimed that driverless vehicles have the potential to be safer than humans. Unfortunately, those claims have remained unverified for the simple fact that there's not enough data available. That is, until now. 

Last year, Google's Waymo analyzed 7.13 million fully driverless miles in Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco cities. Waymo touts itself as the world's first autonomous ride-hailing service, and its cars are fully electric.  Waymo then compared the data to human driving benchmarks, marking the first time the company studied miles from fully driverless operations only, rather than a mix of autonomous and human-monitored driving.

The conclusion is very encouraging. Waymo's driverless cars were 6.7 times less likely than human drivers to be involved in a crash resulting in an injury, good for a respectable 85% reduction over the human benchmark. These vehicles are also 2.3 times less likely to be in a police-reported crash, or a 57% reduction. Overall, this translates to ~17 fewer injuries and 20 fewer police-reported crashes compared to if a human driver would have driven the same distance in the cities where Waymo operates.

There seems to be little consensus regarding the time when autonomous vehicles will finally become an everyday reality on U.S. roads, with public distrust of autonomous driving technology a major hurdle. A Forbes Advisor report found that as many as 93% of U.S. citizens have concerns about some aspect of self-driving cars. However, the ongoing AI boom might help accelerate this technology and lower adoption timelines from decades to maybe less than a decade. 

According to Micron Technology, "AI is a critical technology required to realize autonomous driving. The extreme compute performance required for an autonomous vehicle based on AI requires an innovative memory and storage system to process and hold the vast amount of data necessary for a computer to make decisions like a human."

Even baby steps might help make EVs safer, with one McKinsey study showing that the growing adoption of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in Europe could reduce the number of accidents by about 15% by 2030.

By Alex Kimani for

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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for  More