ADAC warns for safety of pop-out door handles

In their quest to squeeze as much range as possible from their electric models, automakers have launched a trend towards flush door handles. They are sleek and aerodynamic, but the German automobile club ADAC points to safety risks witnessed in real-life incidents.

Tesla popularised them and introduced pop-out door handles in 2012 as one of the many standout features that were cool and functional. Conventional door handles perturb the aerodynamics and negatively impact the range. Automatically retracting variants helps to get the maximum out of the battery.

Now, all Teslas have them, and they are also (optionally) on the Hyundai Ioniq models, the BMW i4, and even combustion-engined cars like the Range Rover and Mercedes E-Class (as well as their EQ-range).

Potential hindrances

Recessed handles have become a fixed value in the evolving landscape of automotive design, seamlessly blending in with the surge of fully automated systems. They come in different variants; some are manually operated, where the driver or passenger needs to press the outer end to make them pop out.

However, the electrically actuated versions have raised concerns regarding safety, particularly from the ADAC, Europe’s largest automobile club based in Germany. It’s not fingers getting squashed over automatic closure—there’s a safety backup for this—but the body has voiced apprehensions about the potential hindrances the electrically operated handles may pose during emergencies.

Deformed doors

Specifically, models such as the Tesla Model S and Mercedes-Benz EQE have come under scrutiny, as their retractable handles could impede the swift access of emergency responders to vehicle occupants following an accident. The ADAC highlights the risk of these handles remaining retracted due to power failure or door deformation, thereby delaying rescue operations. Emergency crews always have the option to shatter the glass of a window door, but this procedure is less preferable.

Despite the absence of identified flaws in the Euro NCAP’s rigorous safety evaluations, where opening forces and automatic unlocking are tested, real-world incidents have substantiated the club’s concerns, demonstrating scenarios where retractable handles complicated emergency efforts, particularly in cases of door deformation.

ADAC emphasizes the need for vehicle owners to familiarise themselves with their doors’ manual override and emergency unlocking mechanisms. Furthermore, the organization recommends proactive electronic unlocking of doors before exiting the vehicle and suggests keeping a safety hammer within reach as a precautionary measure. However, the latter solution doesn’t work for laminated or thermally insulated glass.


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