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Response to Alexander Of Assyria (Reply #9)

Sat Nov 26, 2022, 06:16 AM

13. Other than on episodes of "Emergency!" or "CHiPs", how many times does that happen in a year?

Last edited Sat Nov 26, 2022, 07:35 AM - Edit history (1)

Oh! Someone knows!

The picture shows a car fire on a stretch of road in North Carolina called "the Tail of the Dragon."

No, Millions of Cars Are Not Catching Fire Every Year

A New York Times story about U.S. car fires references a study that gets the frequency wrong by a factor of at least 60.



“We may have slightly overestimated the claimed percentage rate for fires given by the AutoinsuranceEZ company, as a few readers pointed out. Therefore, we have revised the text to clarify that the claimed rate of fires is likely around 2 to 3 percent of all vehicles, not 5 as we originally estimated. However, since we can’t know the total numbers of hybrid vs. ICE vehicles referenced in the study, we can’t make a closer calculation.”

Last month, the New York Times ran a story about EV safety and car fires that caught our eye over here at the C/D Department of Fishy Assertions. Titled "Hurdle to Broad Adoption of EVs: The Misperception That They're Unsafe," it argues that electric cars catch fire less often than conventional internal-combustion cars or hybrids. It reads, in part:

AutoInsuranceEZ studied the frequency of fires—from all causes, including collisions—in automobiles in 2021. It found that hybrid vehicles, which have an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, had the most fires per 100,000 vehicles (3475), while vehicles with just an internal combustion engine placed second (1530 per 100,000). Fully electric vehicles had the fewest: 25 per 100,000. These findings were based on data from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

You don't have to be a professional statistician to notice that these AutoInsuranceEZ numbers look a wee bit questionable. Because, EVs and hybrids aside, if 1530 conventional internal-combustion cars ( aka, "most of the cars" ) are catching fire per 100,000 vehicles, that would equate to millions of car fires each year—as of 2020, there were roughly 270 million registered passenger vehicles in the US. Imagine that: You'd definitely know someone whose car caught fire. Maybe your car caught fire. It might be on fire right now! "Oh, another car fire," you'd say, driving past the third conflagration of your morning commute.

To try to figure out where these numbers came from, we first contacted the National Transportation Safety Board, purported source for the car-fire statistics. And the NTSB's spokesman told us, "There is no NTSB database that tracks highway vehicle fires. We do not know what data AutoInsuranceEZ used for its research, but it did not come from an NTSB database." They suggested that perhaps the study authors confused the NTSB with NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So we contacted NHTSA.

And guess what? NHTSA doesn't collect fire data in this way, either. NHTSA—which we should call "the NHTSA," but that sounds weird—collects data on crashes but says that only about 5 percent of fires are crash-related. So they rely on other sources for information, like the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS). Which, in any case, doesn't categorize fires according to the type of vehicle powertrain.

At this point you may be asking whether your car is going to catch fire or what, so here's what we found. According to the National Fire Protection Association, which gets its info from the NFIRS, passenger cars averaged 117,400 fires annually between 2013 and 2017. And the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that there were 261,037,752 registered vehicles in the US in 2018 (excluding semi-trucks, motorcycles, and buses). So, do a little division, carry the one . . . and that equals .04 percent of vehicles catching fire in a given year.


Which is not zero, but how often do you see a car on fire? It's not that common.

I mean, as long as we're correcting things.

Full disclosure: I've been through two car fires. I carry a fire extinguisher in my cars. I was able to put out both fires, tighten the loose connection, and keep driving.

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discocrisco01 Nov 24 OP
hlthe2b Nov 24 #1
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NullTuples Nov 25 #11
hlthe2b Nov 26 #14
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k0rs Nov 24 #4
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Alexander Of Assyria Nov 24 #9
Takket Nov 24 #10
LineLineNew Reply Other than on episodes of "Emergency!" or "CHiPs", how many times does that happen in a year?
mahatmakanejeeves Nov 26 #13
Mousetoescamper Nov 28 #16
NullTuples Nov 25 #12
Arthur_Frain Nov 26 #15
KewlKat Nov 29 #17
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