Eco-friendly vehicles are vehicles that pose less harm to the environment than comparable vehicles running on gasoline or diesel. In some nations, the term “eco-friendly” is used to identify any vehicle that complies with or surpasses the tough European emissions standards. In the United States, an “eco-friendly” car usually means an electric car or a vehicle powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).
Eco-friendly vehicles, however, can be powered by a variety of alternative fuels and technologies including several types of electric vehicle technologies, CNG, hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicles, neat ethanol vehicles, flexible-fuel vehicles, clean diesel vehicles, and vehicles that use blends of biodiesel and ethanol fuel or gasohol. Eco-friendly vehicles reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to our energy independence by reducing oil imports. But are they safe? Apart from environmental concerns, what are the advantages, disadvantages, and dangers of eco-friendly vehicles?
WHAT MAKES VEHICLES DANGEROUS?
What makes cars and trucks dangerous is their size, weight, speed, momentum, and fuel. Any collision with a full tank of gas – or any significant amount of gas – is frightening to consider. An electric car is somewhat safer for that reason, although most electric vehicles are powered by large lithium-ion battery arrays, and lithium-ion batteries can explode under particular conditions. We’ve accepted gasoline-fueled vehicles. They are now safer than ever, although a collision can still be catastrophic. As electric vehicles become widespread, they’ll become even safer too.
Compressed natural gas costs substantially less than a comparable amount of gasoline, so it’s an ideal fuel for government agencies and businesses with large vehicle fleets. A CNG tank is typically positioned under a vehicle’s frame, so tanks can be difficult to inspect, and if a CNG-powered vehicle rides low to the ground, it can be dangerous. Yet, CNG-powered vehicles are growing in both safety and popularity, and we can expect both the tanks and the vehicles that use them will become safer over time.
Cars, trucks, buses, and SUVs are all inherently dangerous machines, and that will probably always be the case. Compressed gas vehicles, however, have an excellent safety record. In a traffic crash, the ability of rugged, durable CNG tanks to withstand rupture or puncture far exceeds that of the simple stamped steel that constitutes most conventional gas tanks. Statistics also suggest that electric cars are safer from fire than gasoline-powered cars. The numbers so far indicate only one electric car fire per 120 million miles or so of electric driving.
WHAT IS EVERY DRIVER’S OBLIGATION?
All vehicles on the road must pass a number of tests and meet basic legal and industry safety requirements. Any energy storage system – a gas tank, a battery, a hydroelectric dam, or a nuclear power plant – has the potential to fail. Engineers constantly and successfully strive to reduce risk, but risk cannot be eliminated entirely and absolutely. And while automakers are obligated to design and produce reasonably safe vehicles, every driver also has a legal duty to drive with care.
We obviously can’t control the actions of other drivers, but you can take reasonable measures to avoid accidents, injuries, and being on either end of a personal injury lawsuit. Without regard to the kind of vehicle you drive or the kind of fuel it uses, the best way to remain safe is to drive responsibly, soberly, and without distractions. Keep your vehicle maintained – especially the lights and brakes.
Eco-friendly vehicles are safer than conventionally-powered vehicles, and they are becoming increasingly popular. Eco-friendly cars are better for the environment and safer for your loved ones, too. The next time you buy a vehicle, at least check into and consider purchasing an eco-friendly set of wheels.
Jeffrey Hensley is a successful trial lawyer in the Tampa Bay area with more than 25 years of legal experience. He has exclusively represented injured and disabled clients since 1995.