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June 24, 2024

Crash Tests Show Guardrails May Not Stop Heavy Electric Vehicles on Highways

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Feb 3, 2024

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted a first-of-its-kind crash test showing that guardrails and barriers on American highways may not be strong enough to contain heavy electric vehicles in a crash. The test involved crashing a Rivian R1T pickup truck weighing over 7,000 pounds into a standard guardrail at highway speeds.

Guardrail Fails to Stop Rivian Pickup in Crash Test

On January 30th, 2024, engineers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility intentionally crashed a Rivian R1T electric pickup truck weighing over 7,000 pounds into a standard guardrail at 62 mph. The test was conducted to evaluate how guardrails perform when struck by heavy electric vehicles compared to traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Shockingly, the guardrail failed to contain or redirect the Rivian truck in the crash test. The R1T smashed through the rail, leaving it mangled, and continued moving across the ground. This raised immediate concerns over the ability for current guardrails to protect roadways from heavy EVs in the event of crashes.

The Rivian R1T is one of a new breed of electric trucks and SUVs hitting the market that can weigh upwards of 3 tons due to heavy battery packs. The test showcased these vehicles may be too heavy for existing guardrails rated for lighter traditional vehicles.

Weight of EVs Challenges Roadside Safety Standards

The extreme weight of electric pickup trucks and SUVs poses new challenges for transportation safety officials. Guardrails and barriers found along American highways were designed years ago to contain vehicles around 4,000 pounds in crashes. However, new electric models like the Rivian R1T, GMC Hummer EV, Tesla Cybertruck, etc. can weigh up to 9,000 pounds.

“These electrified platforms are much heavier than what we would consider conventional vehicles,” said Bob Bielenberg, lead researcher of the crash test. “There is concern that when these heavier vehicles strike roadside hardware, you could get extension of that barrier that currently is not accounted for in the design.”

The additional weight grants EVs higher crash forces that can overpower current safety barriers not rated for as much weight and impact energy. As sales of heavy electric trucks and SUVs continue rising, transportation agencies will likely need to reassess infrastructure like guardrails to account for shifts in vehicle weights on roads. Updating infrastructure takes considerable time and funding, leaving questions around interim safety as more massive EVs hit roads before improvements occur.

Electric Vehicle Model Curb Weight
Rivian R1T 7,148 lbs
GMC Hummer EV Pickup 9,046 lbs
Tesla Cybertruck (Dual) 6,500 lbs
Ford F150 Lightning (Extended Range) 6,500 lbs

Curb weights of popular electric trucks and SUVs launching in next few years

What Happens Next? Further Guardrail Testing Underway

The failed Rivian test was part of an ongoing research initiative by the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility into guardrail protection standards for future vehicles. The open research questions include:

  • How do various guardrail designs handle heavy electric truck and SUV crashes?
  • What changes may be needed to contain heavier EVs while minimizing infrastructure updates?
  • How will barrier failures with heavy EVs impact injury risks for passengers and other motorists?

The team continues executing crash tests with vehicles like the Rivian under varying conditions into barriers and guardrails. Researchers will analyze results to provide transportation agencies updated guidance around infrastructure needs as more massive electric models come to market.

While concerning, officials emphasized these are preliminary findings and more evaluation is necessary. Current guardrails still protect effectively against most vehicles traveling today. As the shift towards electric vehicles occurs, officials are proactively assessing opportunities to evolve standards to account for their unique attributes and keep roads safe over time. Expect more guidance over the coming year.

Conclusion

The electric vehicle revolution promises greener transportation but also raises new safety challenges given their extreme size and weights compared to gas vehicles. As these heavy battery-powered trucks and SUVs become more commonplace, infrastructure originally designed for lighter cars will need revisiting to handle their mass and energy. Nebraska’s recent crash test provides an early case-study for why updated standards accounting for EVs will grow increasingly important in coming years. Officials are closely analyzing results to find solutions balancing safety, feasibility and responsible infrastructure upgrades as the market shifts more towards electric.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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