New Study Is Worrisome for America's Guardrail System

Heavy EVs are too much for guardrails to handle, test crashes indicate
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2024 4:05 PM CST
New Study Is Worrisome for America's Guardrail System
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / viti)

A new study from the University of Nebraska has concerning implications for America's guardrail system, indicating the country's guardrails are likely not ready to handle heavy electric vehicles. In one crash test, a 2022 Rivian R1T truck going 60mph barely slowed down as it tore right through a guardrail; in another, a Tesla Model 3 sedan lifted the guardrail and went right under it. The problem is that guardrails were designed to stop gas-powered vehicles, but EVs typically weigh 20% to 50% more thanks to the large batteries that are necessary in order to allow the vehicles to travel up to 300 miles on a charge, Fox Business reports. EVs also have lower centers of gravity.

"The system was not made to handle vehicles greater than 5,000 pounds," an engineer with Nebraska's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, which took part in the study, tells the AP. The Rivian that was test crashed weighed more than 7,000 pounds. The engineer notes, however, that the guardrail system has already gone through a sea change; about 50 years into its existence, SUVs and lightweight pickup trucks started increasing in popularity in the 1990s, and guardrails had to be redesigned to adapt to their higher weights. Transportation officials have expressed concerns about heavy EVs in other areas as well, including their impact on lighter vehicles in collisions, higher wear and tear on roadways, and whether parking garages can handle their weight.

And then there's the fact, as Lawrence Hodge writes at Jalopnik, that "The guardrails we do have are often already insufficient to stop a regular car from crashing, as the critical piece of safety infrastructure is often left to degrade or installed completely incorrectly in the first place." See the full report here or read more at the AP. (More road safety stories.)

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