After several dozen crash tests, experts from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety aren’t so concerned about fires resulting from an electric vehicle’s battery. Instead, it’s the weight of the battery and its impact on safety.
When crash testing an EV, the IIHS takes a series of precautions, including having the local fire department on-site to deal with the difficulties of putting out a fire caused by an EV battery.
“My biggest concern is how heavy they are and what all that extra vehicle weight means for the safety of people on the road, specifically occupants of lighter vehicles as well as pedestrians and bicyclists,” observed Raul Arbelaez, vice president of Vehicle Research Center at IIHS, in a recent posting.
Today’s electric vehicles can weigh in at more than 6,000 lbs, especially as more SUVs and pickup trucks enter the market. The GMC Hummer EV is about 9,500 lbs.
Arbelaez noted that the next generation of EVs is designed to perform well in tests as its occupants are likely to be well protected in a collision.“In fact, their extra weight will afford them greater protection in a multivehicle crash,” he noted.
But that’s only part of the equation.
“Unfortunately, given the way these vehicles are currently designed, this increased protection comes at the expense of people in other vehicles,” Arbelaez added.
Granted, the weight difference between a vehicle and a pedestrian is to great that the added heft of an EV wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“However, it’s not clear that all EVs have braking performance that matches their additional mass. If the extra weight leads to longer stopping distances, that will likely lead to an increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths, which already have been on the rise in recent years,” Arbelaez pointed out.
EVs come with acceleration unmatched by internal combustion engine vehicles. So that could lead to more collisions between EV vehicles as hard acceleration is already a cause of collisions between traditional vehicles.
And if an EV and an ICE vehicle collide, the weight disparity comes into play.
“We don’t need to put the brakes on electrification — there are good reasons for it — and we’re not doomed to reverse all the safety gains of recent decades,” Arbelaez said. “But the development will require some new thinking about the kinds of vehicles we want on our roads.”
Ideally, battery technology development will allow for smaller batteries carrying the same charge and range to be put in vehicles.
“In the meantime, we need to double down on existing solutions. Manufacturers should equip all new vehicles with high-performing crash avoidance systems that recognize and brake for pedestrians and bicyclists, in addition to other vehicles, and good headlights that allow drivers to react quickly at night,” Arbelaez said. “States and local governments should consider lowering speed limits, factoring in the increased danger from weight disparities, and backing them up with increased enforcement.”
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