It was bound to happen. Driving three different EVs in our family on a daily basis, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to slam into one. Things could have been worse and I am just very glad and consider it very fortunate that no one was hurt.
It was a perfectly fine December morning and I was on my way to the grocery store in my baby blue 2012 Leaf. After waiting at a stop light for the light to turn green and enjoying the pleasant silence of the lack of toxic chemicals combusting under my hood, I proceeded across the intersection. All traffic was appropriately stopped to my left but unfortunately, a Toyota Camry came barreling through the intersection from the right, ignoring the red light and heading straight for me (the driver later said that sun glare prevented her from seeing the light!). I tried to turn the vehicle to the left to convert a direct blow into a glancing hit, but only accomplished a small manuever before the Toyota slammed into the front right door/fender area of my Leaf.
Nissan Leaf after being hit broadside by Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry after smashing into side of Leaf
My driver side and the the impact-side curtain airbags deployed. I was expecting a good smack to the face from the airbag but fortunately the dual-stage feature of the Leaf's advanced airbag system spared me from even a scratch, particulary surprising given I wear a fragile pair of rimless eye-glasses. More fortunately was the fact that the airbags provided sufficent force to save me from banging my head against the steering wheel or windshield. All in all, the Leaf had fared pretty well and protected me quite adequately from what was a pretty nasty collision.
I tried to stay calm and recover my wits a bit. My first thought was to get out and see if the other driver was okay. Although a few fires in electrical vehicles had caused an uproar in the press recently, I knew none of those had been attributed to the drive battery in the vehicle, and in fact, in the case of Fisker, the incident had been traced to a short circuit in a low-voltage control module - a component common to most gasoline-fueled cars as well. My major concern was therefore focused on the driver in the gasoline vehicle who sat still in the driver's seat as liquids leaked out of her car onto the road and smoke poured from the engine under the cars now crumpled hood. I approached and waived her quickly out of the car and after determining she was okay, we both quickly grabbed Christmas gifts from her vehicle and set them a good distance away.
The car continued to smoulder but it did not burst into flames. No Hollywood explosion, though such depictions are supported somewhat by statistics on gasoline cars catching fire in accidents and they are nothing to take lightly. According to a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology "Automobile fires are consistently among the largest causes of fire death in the United States (about 500 anually) and the U.S. motor vehicle industry has spent $14 million in recent years studying the problem."
I then phoned my insurance agent. State Farm had been pretty good about insuring my electric vehicles after some confusion early on with what to do about my Tesla Roadster. State Farm does not offer any special discounts specifically for electric vehicles but in general, large insurers such as Aviva, Allstate, Geico and Progressive have at least discussed considerations for reduced rates based on the reduced risk associated with EV drivers. "When you look at electric vehicle owners, you probably have a pretty careful bunch there," said Jack Nerad, market analyst at Kelly Blue Book. Hartford recently announced a 5% auto insurance discount for EV drivers, citing environmental stewardship but likely getting a push from their actuaries as well.
EVs may sport a small premium relative to similarly-equipped vehicles based on their potential increased replacement parts costs for repairs. This is a volume issue as much as anything else, offset somewhat by the potential safety factors, but in the end, things tend to even out. Ford has addressed the parts issue with their Ford Focus electric by making the electric version of the Focus with over 80% of the same parts as the regular version. The profile of the tyipcal driver has a lot to do with insurance costs that are associated with a vehicle. For example, a 36,810 Cadillac CTS carries an insurance premium of $2,024 versus the more expensive Chevy Volt, which has an insurance cost of only 1,452. The average premium for a Leaf is $1,513 versus, $1,8801 for a similarly featured and priced Nissan Maxima while the Leaf has a $3,000 premium on purchase price over the Maxima.
In summary, EV drivers tend to be a bit more thoughtful, demanding ultimately a safer vehicle and receiving lower premiums. EVs tend to be very safe vehicles with less fire risk than comparable gasoline vehicles, and judging from all the sand that had to be poured on the road around the Toyota, plowing into an EV leaves less of a mess to clean up. The EV did need to go back to the dealer for assessment rather than directly to the body shop but otherwise, towing, claim procedures and other items are just the same as if I were driving a "normal" car - how about that!?
I just got feedback from the repair shop that my little Leaf is going to pull through. Though I would rather not go through this again, it was interesting to have experienced first hand that my EV can take a licking and keep on ticking - and no, I need no such crash proof test of my Roadster, knock on wood!