Retractable door handles have landed on many cars in recent years. It is a question of aerodynamics, of course, but also of style, which could lead to some safety problems in the event of an accident.

This is said by the ADAC, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club e.V., Europe's largest automobile club based in Munich, which has analysed the latest models equipped with retractable handles, both electric and purely mechanical, and their crash tests. Let's find out how and why.

It all started overseas

The first retractable handles arrived in the automotive world thanks to Tesla and, in particular, the first generation Model S. A few years later, electrically operated handles also appeared on European models such as the Range Rover Velar or the Mercedes S-Class W223.

To think that they are all the same, however, is wrong. In fact, today there are many models, either folding manually by pressing on the front, or folding by means of automatic electric actuators.

The retractable door handles of the Tesla Model S

The retractable door handles of the Tesla Model S

The retractable door handles of the Mercedes S-Class W223

The retractable door handles of the Mercedes S-Class W223

According to the ADAC, the problem lies mainly with the electrically-actuated ones, which, in the event of a power failure, for example in the event of an accident, could get stuck inside the door frame, without allowing rescuers to enter the passenger compartment to extract the occupants.

Le maniglie a scomparsa della Range Rover Velar

The retractable door handles on the Range Rover Velar

What happens in crash tests

As mentioned, door opening forces are already tested and evaluated during crash tests conducted by Euro NCAP. The crash engineers also check whether the doors are unlocked automatically as soon as a collision occurs so that they can be opened properly from the outside.

According to Euro NCAP itself, so far the retractable handles have not shown any abnormalities in testing.

Crash test Mercedes-Benz EQE Euro NCAP 2022

Mercedes-Benz EQE crash test

That's not all, however. According to ADAC there is also another issue to consider, namely the deformation of the steel following impact. Should the handle suffer major damage, first responders may not be able to open the relevant door in time.

According to the German automobile club, it could be very useful for the driver in such cases to include a classic emergency window hammer in the safety equipment in the passenger compartment. Stowed away but within easy reach, it could be a possible solution in the event of an immediate escape, provided that the car windows are not laminated, double glazed or acoustically and thermally insulated (an option that is in great demand in the world's hottest countries).