Jennifer Homendy, director of the United States’ National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), expressed concern on Wednesday about the safety risks posed by heavy electric vehicles in the event of collisions with lighter cars.
Homendy spoke on the subject during a speech in Washington before the Transportation Board of Investigation. He gave as an example that an electric GMC Hummer weighs about 4,000 kg (9,000 lb), and that the battery weighs about 1,300 kg (2,900 lb), roughly the total weight of a typical Honda Civic.
“I am concerned about the increased risk of serious injury and death to all road users from the excessive weight and increased size, power and performance of vehicles on our roadways,” Homendy said in his address to the group.
The additional load that electric vehicles often generate from the sheer volume of their batteries. To achieve performance of at least 480 kilometers (300 mi) per charge, the battery would have to weigh hundreds of kilos (pounds).
Currently some batteries are being developed which have the potential to store more energy in a smaller size. But for now there is a disparity between the weight of electric vehicles and those of internal combustion. Electric cars also provide instant power to the wheels, so in most cases they accelerate faster than most gas-powered cars, trucks and vans.
Homendy expressed enthusiasm for the Joe Biden administration’s plans to phase out carbon emissions from vehicles to address the climate crisis. But he indicated that he is still concerned about the safety risks posed by the proliferation of electric vehicles on roads and highways.
“We must be careful that we are not also creating the unintended consequence: more deaths on our roads,” he stressed. “Safety cannot be overlooked, especially when it comes to new transportation policies and technologies.”
Homendy notes that the Ford F-150 Lightning EV electric pickup truck weighs 2,000 to 3,000 pounds (900 to 1,350 kg) more than a similar internal combustion model. The Mustang Mach E electric pickup and Volvo XC40, he said, weigh 33% more than their gas-powered counterparts.
“This has a significant impact on the safety of all road users,” he said.
The NTSB investigates traffic accidents, but has no regulatory power. For vehicles, this authority is primarily held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Even without counting electric vehicles, the country’s roads are heavily overloaded, with smaller vehicles having a disproportionate share of accidents due to a decades-long boom in sales of large cars, trucks and vans. But electric vehicles are often heavier than even the largest gasoline- or diesel-powered pickup trucks.
Michael Brooks, executive director of the non-profit Center for Auto Safety, also raised concerns about the weight of electric vehicles, as consumers demand performance of at least 300 miles (480 km) per charge, requiring heavier batteries. is required.
Brooks said setting up a charging net for the facility could be a safety mistake.
“These big, heavy batteries will do more damage,” he said. “It’s a simple matter of mass and velocity.”
Brooks said he doesn’t know of enough research on the safety risks in increasingly heavy vehicles. In 2011, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a report stating that being struck by a vehicle with an excess weight of 453 kg (1,000 lb) increases the chance of dying in a crash by 47%.
He noted that electric vehicles have very high horsepower ratings, allowing them to accelerate even in busy urban areas. “People are not trained to deal with that kind of acceleration. It’s not something drivers are used to doing,” Brooks said.
In addition, many new electric vans are tall, with limited visibility that poses a risk to pedestrians or drivers of smaller cars, he said.
Sales of new electric vehicles in the United States rose nearly 65% to 807,000 last year, accounting for about 5.8% of all new car sales. The federal government has set a target for electric vehicles to reach 50% of new car sales by 2030 and is offering tax incentives of up to $7,500 to achieve this. Consulting firm LMC Automotive has come up with a more modest prediction: It expects electric vehicles to make up a third of new car market sales by 2030.