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Are EVs a Danger in Traffic Jams?

Vehicles in a traffic Jam
Daniel Avram/Shutterstock.com

Every few months we see the same story floating around on social media that electric cars are more likely to die and get stuck during a traffic jam. Suggesting they are dangerous, have no heaters, or will run out of battery in around three hours. So, are EVs a danger in traffic jams? Absolutely not.

Earlier this year, a huge 48-mile traffic jam happened on the I-95 in Virginia on a cold, snowy day, and we instantly saw the EV fearmongering reach an all-time high. Claiming if those were all EVs, the situation would have been a “catastrophe.”

A reader actually sent us these graphics circulating on Facebook in response to one of our recent EV articles. In reality, when electric cars aren’t moving, they use very little power, will last for days, and can easily keep you safe and warm (or cool) during a long traffic jam.

The Rumors

“If all cars were electric … and were caught up in a three hour traffic jam… dead batteries! Then what?”

I don’t even know where to start with this. And while someone with a super low battery would be in a less than ideal situation while stuck in traffic, regular gas-powered cars can run out of gas too. Obviously, it’ll be a little easier to find a jerry can and quickly add some gas, but it’s a problem for both types of vehicles.

Additionally, newer EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning feature bi-directional charging and can share their massive battery with other EVs in an emergency. The battery inside Ford’s Lightning can even power your home. It’s not the only one with this feature, and more are on the way.

And as for saying an EV will only last for around 3 hours before the battery dies, I’ll have to disagree vehemently. That’s purely false. In fact, if you’re barely using the AC or heater, an EV can sit in traffic for more than several days.

“Not to mention, that there is virtually no heating in an electric vehicle. JUST SAYING?”


The Electric Vehicle Facts

All current Tesla models lined up

While it’s true that EVs do lose a little battery performance due to the cold, most modern EVs have heat pumps and cooling systems to keep the battery at optimal operating temperatures. This means the weather won’t affect the battery as much as you think or as bad as some comments online would have you believe.

Furthermore, EVs don’t consume any battery when they’re not in motion aside from a few low-power electrics inside, like the dash and headlights.

On the flipside, gas-powered vehicles are incredibly inefficient, and whether you’re driving or idling, the engine is always running. According to the EPA, gas vehicles use less than 30% of the fuel to keep the engine running, and the rest is wasted on producing combustion, heat, exhaust, or driveline inefficiencies. Essentially, sitting idle in an EV is by no means worse than sitting in an ICE vehicle and could be better.

Next, contrary to “popular” belief, electric vehicles do have heaters. They’re just different than what you’d find in a regular car. On a gas car or truck, you can quickly warm the cabin from the heat produced by a running engine. Or, the vehicle uses a cooling system and fans for AC.

With EVs, manufacturers use electronic heating elements to warm the cabin, not to mention things like heated seats and steering wheels. Those get power from the massive battery, keep you warm, and can last for far longer than simply three hours. More modern EVs from Tesla and Ford actually use the heat pump to warm the cabin, which is far more efficient than heating elements or resistors from older EVs.

Your typical Tesla heated seat uses around 60 watts per seat and gets controlled by the onboard computer drawing around 250 watts. As long as you don’t use extra systems like Wi-Fi to watch Netflix on the infotainment display, the car could easily keep your seats warm for nearly a week.

How Do EVs Stuck In Traffic Fare?

Tesla Model 3 stuck in traffic jam
Dan Kanninen

Back to the original question. Are EVs a danger in traffic jams? No, they’re not. During that big I-95 traffic jam earlier this year, multiple electric vehicles were stuck for countless hours, and none of them had any problems.

One report from DriveTesla mentioned how the owner felt more safe thanks to being in an EV. The owner, Dan Kanninen, got stuck for over 14 hours, stayed plenty warm, and had enough battery to easily make it to a nearby charging station after the ordeal ended. Here’s what he had to say:

“While fellow drivers burned gasoline running their engines to stay warm, my EV intelligently directed power solely to temperature regulation—I did not have to inefficiently burn fuel to power my entire engine in order to keep us safe. As other drivers then fretted about their dwindling gas reserves, my EV intuitively monitored my power supply, giving me the peace of mind that other drivers did not have. Throughout my entire experience in the I-95 quagmire, I knew exactly how much power my EV was using, how much power remained in its battery, and how far I could drive.”

Another Tesla Model Y owner was reportedly stuck for even longer. That EV had 74% battery remaining at the beginning of the traffic jam, sat for 16 hours with Tesla’s “camp mode” enabled to stay warm, took a nap, and made it home with 61% battery left. During the entire 16-hour traffic jam, the EV only consumed 13% of the battery.

At the end of the day, no one wants to get stranded on the side of the road with a low battery or an empty fuel tank. Nor do we want to sit in hours-long traffic jams wondering if we’re going to run out of juice on a hot summer day or cold winter evening.

If you’re considering buying an EV and are worried about getting stuck in a massive traffic jam, don’t be. As long as you have enough battery or fuel, most traffic jams aren’t long enough to be a concern. The situation isn’t as bad as some make it seem and no worse than if you drove a gas vehicle.

Cory Gunther Cory Gunther
Cory Gunther has been writing about phones, Android, cars, and technology in general for over a decade. He's a staff writer for Review Geek covering roundups, EVs, and news. He's previously written for GottaBeMobile, SlashGear, AndroidCentral, and InputMag, and he's written over 9,000 articles. Read Full Bio »