I like your part about looking ahead. I start slowing down when the 4th or 5th guy ahead of me starts applying the brakes. This usually gets the guy behind me to slow down or go flying by me on his way to his next accident or close call.
True, we would be a lot better off if all drivers were sufficiently aware of their surroundings, but the fact remains there is a lot that can be done to avoid most accidents if you are an aware driver. Anecdotally, all the multi-vehicle accidents I've witnessed, happened because both drivers made a mistake or failed to take evasive/defensive action. I've seen drivers accelarate from the green, and get T-boned because they didn't look left and right before proceeding through the intersection. How stupid are people to proceed through an intersection without looking left and right? They ASSume the other driver will stop. I always look whether I'm the first driver or the last driver in line.
Also, who watches their rear view mirror when slowing for a stop or while stopped at a traffic light? I do. If I see an approaching vehicle that does not appear to slowing down 'fast enough', I will pump my brake pedal (or lever) to flash the brake lights or even temporarily turn on my four-ways to get their attention while they type their latest text message.
Many of my accident avoidance habits and skills were honed from 35 years and well over 100,000 miles logged on a half-dozen or so motorcycles. My life depends upon my ability to predict and be prepared to react to all kinds of bone-headed actions by other drivers on the road. And as a motorcyclist, I've seen it all. There are times when I swear, a driver looks me in the eye, and yet still pulls right out in front of me. (I look for eye contact to 'confirm' whether another driver 'sees' me).
Reading people's head and eye movements, watching the front wheel, not the car to read a lane change, lane positioning, positioning relative to other vehicles, maintaining total situational awareness and so on. Watching the road five to ten seconds ahead to maximize reaction times and so forth. Too many things to address in this format.
As a motorcyclist, I practice the sport. That means I find a remote section of lightly traveled roadway and I will periodically practice 'panic' stops. I know what it feels like to have the front tire howling at the point of lock-up. I will practice evasive maneuvers around an imaginary object in the road. Back in the early nineties, I attended Keith Code's Superbike school. I will admit, the small size of a motorcycle has permitted me to avoid more than one accident. I also drive a Suburban, F-150, a 38 ft RV, as well as a Jetta. :-)
I would say the single most important factor is the DRIVERS (plural). The problem is you only have control over one of the drivers in a potential collision. Having a car that can safely maneuver so as to avoid the collision is quite important indeed. The January 12, 2004 New Yorker has a great article about the myths of SUV safety called "Big and Bad". The author describes the difference between "passive safety" (ability to take a hit without being killed) versus "active safety" (ability to outmaneuver a collision so you don't get hit). SUVs have a lot of passive safety, but are not as maneuverable so they can't avoid collisions like a smaller car like a VW Jetta. This makes the Jetta safer on average if I recall the article accurately.
If you don't want to pay for the whole article, there's a Q&A with the author which covers a lot of the material.
The electric car vs. gasoline car safety discussion seems to be unrelated to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) test results. Collisions from various directions don't test gas or electric safety, they test the outer cage of the car. The impressive test results on the Tesla were probably the result of careful engineering. Perhaps a small benefit unfolded because the small engine allowed for a frontal collapse zone that otherwise would have required extending the car length.
cookiejar wrote "I don't think swapping would work too well as someone would inevitably get stuck with a dud battery that won't get his car to the exchange station."
It's not just fear of getting a dud, but general consumer concerns about replacing their very expensive and possibly newer EV batteries with someone else's used batteries. Even if there is data showing very little difference in fully charged capacity over the first N years of battery life, consumers have personal histories with rechargeable lithium ion batteries and that experience tells them that older batteries don't hold as much of a charge as newer batteries.
It will be an uphill marketing battle to convince consumers that EV batteries are different, and that they aren't giving up something if they exchange their factory original batteries for some unknown used batteries at the charging station.
In spite of the hype and the convenient half-truths, battery technology is progressing at a very leasurely pace. And placing huge new requirements on the electric grid is not a great idea either.
I don't buy into the knee-jerk assumption that EV = battery powered. I like Tesla cars, and it seems to me that a more viable approach is fuel cells. With H2 generators on board. Then, no need for concocting fantastic new schemes where all the downsides are conveniently ignored.
Rollover was a, mostly overblown, concern with Jeeps and SUVs. Tesla is designed from the ground up as a sports car. Sports cars always have a low center of gravity to enable faster cornering. Although I will give a slight nod that if designed right, EVs have the inherent ability to always have a low CG.
"So the shock wave is pretty much transferred to the area directly behind the engine, with minimal energy absorption." – This is just nonsense. The engine block is not rigidly fixed to the frame of the car so no 'shock wave' can transmit through it. It also has something called mass. The mass of the engine will help work against the momentum of the impact. The engine block will either shear its mounts or cause the frame to bend absorbing energy. It also gets pushed into the firewall in a crash which will absorb more energy and prevent it from entering the passenger cabin. This just sounds like propaganda; knowing one of the biggest EV weaknesses is actually survivability.
"You don't have a highly volatile liquid onboard, which can quickly get away from you during a crash and become a real problem." – This is a fair comment. But let's not forget that EVs have been burning up all over the place due to shorting of the high energy storage. In my mind this is a wash between the two if EV electrical systems designed with collision survivability in mind. Gas burns when it finds heat and air; high current can melt, heat or burn any material. Gas can explode, but in car wrecks it just burns. Batteries can explode, but not very impressively.
All in all I say a score of one to Tesla (not all EVs) and minus two for David Cole.