Auto Service World
News   February 21, 2024   by Adam Malik

The roadside safety risk EVs pose


A screengrab of a video from The Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln showing a 2022 Rivian R1T truck crashing through a guardrail before being stopped by concrete barriers

Recent crash tests conducted by the University of Nebraska have highlighted a significant safety concern: Electric vehicles, which are typically heavier than their gasoline counterparts, are capable of crashing through steel highway guardrails not designed to withstand their extra force.

This revelation raises alarms about the effectiveness of the nation’s roadside safety systems in the era of electric mobility.

Electric vehicles, owing to their heavy batteries, weigh approximately 20 per cent to 50 per cent more than internal combustion engine vehicles. This added weight, combined with a lower center of gravity, means that traditional steel guardrails may not be sufficient to halt these vehicles during a crash.

This was starkly demonstrated last fall when engineers at Nebraska’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility observed a nearly 4-ton 2022 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck effortlessly break through a metal guardrail during a test, only coming to a halt upon colliding with a concrete barrier yards away. The video can be seen here.

“The system was not made to handle vehicles greater than 5,000 pounds,” explained Cody Stolle, assistant director at the facility, as quoted by The Associated Press.

This underscores the challenge posed by the increasing weight of modern vehicles, especially EVs.

The results of this crash test come at a time when the surging popularity of electric vehicles has prompted transportation officials to voice concerns over the disparity in weight between newer battery-powered vehicles and lighter gas-powered models. Last year, both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety separately flagged the potential safety risks posed by heavier electric vehicles in collisions with lighter vehicles.

While electric vehicles like the Rivian truck tested in Nebraska may offer enhanced protection for their occupants, road safety officials stress the fundamental role of guardrails in preventing passenger vehicles from veering off the road, especially in critical areas such as bridges, waterways, and cliffs.

“Guardrails are kind of a safety feature of last resort,” noted Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, to AP.

Furthermore, a preliminary crash test involving a Tesla sedan demonstrated that the sedan was able to lift the guardrail and pass under it, further indicating that current barrier systems might not be effective against heavier electric vehicles.

The primary contributor to the increased weight of EVs is the large batteries required to power them for approximately 300 miles per charge.

“So far, we don’t see good vehicle-to-guardrail compatibility with electric vehicles,” Stolle observed, emphasizing the need for more comprehensive testing. Planned future tests, including computer simulations and additional crash tests with electric vehicles, aim to explore how roadside barriers can be engineered to minimize crash impacts for both lighter gas-powered and heavier electric vehicles, ensuring the safety of all road users in the face of evolving automotive technology.


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