A lot of people ask me about safety when they see Aptera. Because it’s not bulky, some people assume it’s not safe. Unfortunately there aren’t any official crash results yet, but let me explain why I believe Aptera will do well.
The passive safety (so when a crash is actually occuring, not the electronic bits that help avoid an accident in the first place) of a vehicle is determined by several factors:
- The maximum deceleration of the safety cell
- The deformation of the safety cell
- The maximum deceleration of the passenger / hitting something inside the cabin
Maximum deceleration of the safety cell
Since Aptera is an electric vehicle and the motors are in the wheels, the front of the vehicle doesn’t need to contain a lot of components (like an engine!). This means that the space between the passengers and the nose of the vehicle can and will be used to properly absorb the impact of a frontal collision.
A downside in case of crashes with other vehicles is Aptera’s relatively low weight compared to other vehicles. When two moving objects collide, the lighter object will sustain higher acceleration than the heavier object. I wouldn’t advocate for a heavier vehicle based on this risk though. Otherwise we’re getting into an arms race on the road. To opt for a heavier car, so other traffic will sustain more damage than you, will not earn you my respect.
It helps to know that the majority of fatal car accidents in the US do not involve a second vehicle (source: safer-america.com).
Deformation of the safety cell
This is a very important one and which has a very notable impact on the crash rating.
When force is enacted onto the structure around the passengers, they can get trapped if the safety cell isn’t strong enough to protect them. Pedals, steering wheel etc. can push into the passengers, bringing much harm. Another risk of large deformations is that it becomes increasingly difficult to leave the vehicle after the crash.
Take a look at this walk-around of several vehicles that have sustained a frontal impact. It clearly visualizes the problem if a vehicle is not designed to protect passenger space properly.
This is where Aptera’s design will do extremely well. Composites offer a much greater strength/weight ratio than steel and Aptera’s cocoon-like shape also helps to avoid buckling. Aptera claims that its first incarnation (about a decade ago) had the highest roof crush strength of all passenger vehicles on the road. The current iteration will do even better.
Check out this short video of the previous Aptera being hit by a sledge hammer to give you some feeling on how composites react in comparison to metals:
And if you have any doubt about the potential strength of a composite safety cell, check out this video of F1 driver Romain Grosjean blasting through a metal barrière and managing to walk away without major injury (except for some burns from the fire).
So, the safety cell most likely won’t plastically deform unless the crash is extremely severe ánd there are no heavy components in the front (no engine) that can compromise passenger space. What happens to the passengers?
Maximum deceleration of the passengers / hitting something inside the cabin
Just having a cell to protect you is not enough. Imagine what would happen if you’d crash in an ultra strong vehicle without seatbelts and a sharp metal steering wheel in front of you. Things would end badly.
Luckily to protect the passenger bodies from abruptly hitting the inside of the cabin, a combination of seat belts and airbags can be used. Which of course will also be the case in Aptera.
At the moment of writing (September 2021) I haven’t got any details on the types and number of airbags yet. I know seat belts will be standard (obviously) and that Aptera will use several airbags. But I’m not sure if this includes side airbags, curtain airbags etc. I will update this section as soon as I have more information.
Until then, here’s what Aptera has to say about safety in their FAQ:
Of course, the actual crash tests results will really show what we can expect. The Aptera engineers feel confident it will perform well. And so do I.