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Tesla vehicles parked in the dealership and service centre of electric vehicle manufacturing company Tesla, in Ottawa, Ont. on May 10.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Automobiles get studied a lot. There are so many automobile studies released that, if you don’t like the results of one car study, you can just wait an hour for the results of the next. There are studies about every wrinkle and variation of car life. For instance, did you know that Belgians are the most stressed drivers in Europe? That women are twice as likely to be trapped after a crash? That Subaru won the top spot in the American Customer Satisfaction Index Survey Automobile Study? Well, it’s all true. The studies prove it.

Occasionally, a study comes along that gives you pause. Such was the case with the revelation from Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) that Tesla drivers are almost 50 per cent less likely to crash while driving their Tesla “than any other vehicle they operate.” The same study found that Porsche drivers are 55 per cent more likely to crash while driving their Porsche EVs than any gas combustion or hybrid vehicles they operate. CMT found that Tesla owners were 21 per cent less likely to be distracted by their mobile devices when driving their EVs than their other vehicles, and nine per cent less likely to exceed the speed limit.

The media picked up the “Tesla versus Porsche” angle and reported it as if that was the sole and single most important finding (the entire results have not been made public). By the way, the study’s title is not (as one might assume) “Tesla Turtles versus Porsche Speed Freaks.” It’s “New CMT research to be presented at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Conference shows that electric vehicles have unique risk factors from traditional vehicles” and was delivered by Ryan McMahon, vice president of strategy for CMT, on May 24 in Ruckersville, Va. The full findings – which examined variables such as driver fatigue, vehicle range, distracted driving and speeding – will be revealed to those who sign up and attend a June 16 CMT webinar.

No matter. By May 30, folks were reading versions with headlines such as “En Porsche Taycan, vous avez plus de chance d’avoir un accident qu’en Tesla,” which translates to “In a Porsche Taycan, you are more likely to have an accident than in a Tesla.”

The study’s announcement and its reception epitomize a phenomenon so astutely summed up by comedian Arsenio Hall and celebrated in music by the C + C Music Factory in 1991 as “The Things that Make You Go Hmmmm.”

It raises a lot of questions.

Questions such as, “How many vehicles do these people own?”

Do these Tesla owners keep a few combustion engine automobiles around for times they feel like emitting fumes, such as “CO2 Tuesdays?” Maybe they drive more riskily in combustion vehicles because they intend to sell them soon and buy another Tesla.

Do their Teslas have bumper stickers that read, “My other car is a gas-guzzling SUV and I drive it like a maniac.”

I spoke with a Tesla owner to see if the findings matched his personal experience.

He told me the Tesla’s sensors help the driver be more aware of other vehicles and objects without being a distraction. “The car is so smooth that, for whatever reason, I tend to cruise more on the highway – somewhere around 110-120 kilometres an hour. With the Subaru,” he said. “I feel like I need to accelerate and decelerate more often.”

The risks associated with EVs will have significant ramifications. The CMT study news release, for instance, begins by noting that “drivers of electric vehicles exhibit acceleration risks ranging from 180 to 340 per cent higher than when driving traditional combustion vehicles.” That’s a startling figure. How can it be safer to drive a Tesla Model S Plaid that can sprint to 60 miles per hour in 2.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 322 kilometres an hour than a Ford Mustang Shelby BGT500 that jogs to 60 miles per hour in a mere 3.3 seconds and hits a top speed of 289 kilometres an hour? Let alone a 2021 Honda Civic that does it in 8.1 seconds.

One explanation may be that risk is more often tied to the way people drive than the vehicle they drive. The nature of EVs will alter the way motorists navigate highways and city streets. According to McMahon, “Accidents are more likely on longer trips, but Tesla drivers have to stop and recharge more frequently and for a longer time than gas car drivers stop to refuel. That could create safer conditions for driving because of fatigue … Longer trips are riskier, but there are breaks in the trip from an EV that require people to stop.”

That’s on the positive side of self-driving EVs. On the negative, researchers at the University of California, Irvine discovered autonomous vehicles can be “tricked into an abrupt halt or other undesired driving behaviour by the placement of an ordinary object on the side of the road.”

According to UCI professor Qi Alfred Chen, who co-authored a paper on the findings, autonomous vehicles can’t differentiate between objects which are on the road by accident and those left “intentionally as part of a physical denial-of-service attack.” Said Chen, “A box, bicycle or traffic cone may be all that is necessary to scare a driverless vehicle into coming to a dangerous stop in the middle of the street or on a freeway off-ramp, creating a hazard for other motorists and pedestrians.”

Studies. They’re kind of like automobiles. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

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