Heavy Electric Vehicles Overwhelm U.S. Guardrails: A Call for Reinforcement

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Heavy Electric Vehicles Overwhelm U.S. Guardrails: A Call for Reinforcement

As electric vehicles become more popular, they bring both environmental benefits and new challenges. One such challenge is the impact of their substantial weight on road safety. Experts are now questioning if U.S. highway guardrails are robust enough for these heavier vehicles.

A test conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility highlighted this concern. In this test, a Rivian R1T electric truck weighing around 7,000 pounds, traveling at 60 mph, easily broke through a steel guardrail and crashed over a concrete barrier.

Guardrails play a vital role in preventing vehicles from veering off roads or into oncoming traffic. The increased weight of electric vehicles, compared to traditional gasoline cars, is putting new pressure on these important safety features.

Cody Stolle, the assistant director at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, expressed concerns to the Associated Press about current guardrails not being equipped for vehicles over 5,000 pounds. He noted a lack of compatibility between electric vehicles and existing guardrails.

The issue of heavier vehicles on U.S. roads isn’t new. The rising popularity of large SUVs and pickup trucks over the years has already led to changes in guardrail designs since the 1990s. However, even traditional heavy-duty trucks exceed the 5,000-pound limit for current guardrails.

The shift to electric vehicles further escalates the issue due to their substantial weight, largely attributed to their heavy lithium-ion batteries. Electric trucks, needing larger batteries for adequate range, are particularly hefty. For instance, the Ford F-150 Lightning weighs up to 6,893 pounds, similar to Tesla’s Cybertruck, and about a ton heavier than its gasoline counterpart. The GMC Hummer EV pickup is even more substantial at 9,063 pounds, with its battery pack alone weighing as much as a Honda Civic.

This increase in mass leads to a higher impact force in collisions, raising significant safety concerns. Large SUVs and trucks already present considerable risks to pedestrians and drivers of smaller vehicles, and electrifying these types of vehicles amplifies these dangers.

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, expressed her concerns last year about the growing risks associated with the increasing weight and size of vehicles, including electric vehicles. She highlighted the potential for more severe injuries and fatalities for all road users due to these factors.

Electric vehicles pose additional challenges beyond safety. They typically cause more tire wear than gasoline vehicles, leading to the release of harmful pollutants into the air, water, and soil.

Regarding the issue of guardrails, the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility is planning further tests to determine necessary updates to U.S. road infrastructure. Cody Stolle, in a press release, emphasized the urgency of addressing this matter. He pointed out that as electric vehicles become more common, the likelihood of accidents involving them, particularly those running off the road, will also increase.

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