Will driver assistance help overcome all EV safety concerns?

The UK is considering extension of the new vehicle MOT period thanks to new vehicle tech, such as advanced driver assistance systems in ICEs and EVs

One of the major issues that, in many cases, overshadows the sustainable effects of electrification is cost. As mentioned a lot at EV Magazine LIVE, there has been a lot of controversial conversation around cost parity and ensuring that electric vehicles (EVs) are cheaper than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts. 

But there is more going on in this field to reduce the cost of charging and make drivers aware of ways to minimise this through lifestyle changes and opportunity charging. One of the UK Government’s approaches to this involves potentially extending the new car Ministry of Transport (MOT) certification requirement from three years to four years as EVs are deemed safer—thanks to advanced driver assistance systems. 

As cars become more intuitive and capable of analysing the road ahead, as well as the driver’s behaviour, there’s no doubt that technology plays a crucial role in road safety. But, is it capable of solving all problems on the road?

EV testing criteria and analysis 

A report—the Road Safety Observatory—shares some of the assessment criteria for EV safety testing—but also the general details to be considered for any road safety testing. It’s important to understand the variables that are included in such an assessment, including other road occupants like cyclists, other drivers, pedestrians, and horse riders on country roads. 

Despite EVs experiencing the same scrutiny as ICE cars, some factors stand out when comparing the two.

  • Structural modifications that have been made to incorporate batteries into an EV
  • EV batteries raise concerns of electrolyte leakage due to cell casing damage in the event of a collision
  • Chemical reaction is a concern as certain circumstances are affected by extreme heat or fire—lithium is a highly reactive substance
  • Electrical systems present risks of short circuiting and electroshock
  • Noise: EVs create less noise when driving, which concerns cyclists, pedestrians, and even other drivers

So, the risk criteria is different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the risk is higher. As the UK Government looks to extend the MOT deadline to four years for new cars, it’s because vehicles are safer thanks to more automated systems, including lane departure controls, assisted braking, and other systems that work proactively to ensure an EV’s safety

Cars are becoming more clever than we think. They understand the car’s capabilities, but also the driver’s, leveraging camera technology and sensors to analyse driver attentiveness and behaviour at the wheel. 

Seemingly the MOT period will be longer because the cars themselves will play roles in ensuring their longevity via over-the-air updates and continuous improvement in relation to driving conditions. 

How will commercial fleets be affected by new MOT requirements?

This is an important stage for commercial fleet operators, and a critical factor in their choices to switch to EVs now or continue to operate with existing vehicles. The reason for extending the MOT period on new cars is due to safety and passenger vehicles, vans, and trucks benefit greatly from the enhanced technology performance of EVs. 

Not only is safety a risk to logistics firms from an operational perspective, but also encourages better welfare for drivers in the process. 

“If you manage a commercial fleet of light vehicles, or if you simply own and drive a car, this is important,” says Barney Goffer, UK Product manager at Teletrac Navman UK

“The purpose of the MOT is to ensure we have vehicles that are safe to use on our increasingly busy roads. But my question is, how exactly does extending the time for the first MOT achieve this?” 

Coming from the business that supports fleet operators to make the shift to EVs and operate more efficiently in the process, Goffer explains what the new MOT period could mean for commercial operators—effectively saying businesses will get more miles before they have to put their assets in for MOT. 

“One area that we know causes MOT failure rates to increase - and the proposal itself states—is high mileage. The DfT’s 2016 consultation noted that while a three-year-old car does around 32,000 miles on average, vans do more than 70,000 miles. In 2021 the average mileage at year three, for class 4 vehicles was 25,379 and for class 7 (vans between 3 and 3.5 tonnes), it was 58,539,” says Goffer. 

“Based on the 2021 figures, we’re looking at a difference of around 130 percent between the two classes of vehicle – a statistic that also demonstrates the likely difference in wear and tear too. 

“By proposing to extend initial MOT tests by another 12 months, my concern is that a class 7 vehicle could therefore be less roadworthy, but remain on the roads until tested in its fourth year. This presents a worrying safety risk for both LGV drivers and road users at large, which is why I don’t support the proposed changes.”

EVs benefit both fleets and consumers

If fleet operators and private drivers were concerned about safety, electrification may not look like such a bad idea. Generally, EVs will be fitted with more exclusive technologies and ICE vehicles will be phased out by the 2030 deadline—2040 in less developed countries. While drivers won’t be jumping to take their hands off the wheel, there are benefits that will allow them peace of mind when owning a new EV—they’ll also keep £35 to £50 in their pocket. 

Not only are there benefits for consumers and businesses in terms of safety and sustainability, but also the costs to operate and maintain EVs. The government is addressing the idea that one less MOT for each new car will save the country £100 million per year. Although, there is no mention of how these funds will affect the businesses carrying out these assessments. 

A cost saving in one area is a loss in another, so how will mechanical engineering businesses be supported when MOTs are reduced and electrification presents a need for upskilling, shifting from mechanical engineering to technology expertise.

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