DETROIT (AP) — The head of the National Transportation Safety Board expressed concern Wednesday about the safety risks posed by collisions between heavy electric vehicles and lighter vehicles.
The official, Jennifer Homendy, raised the issue during a speech to the Transportation Research Council in Washington. An electric GMC Hummer, for example, weighs about 9,000 pounds (4,000 kilograms), and the battery pack alone weighs 2,900 pounds (1,300 kilograms) — about the entire weight of a typical Honda Civic, she notes.
“I am concerned that all road users are at increased risk of serious injury and death from increased curb weight and the increased size, power and performance of vehicles on our roads, including electric vehicles,” Homendy said in prepared remarks for the group.
The extra weight that electric cars typically carry stems from the sheer mass of their batteries. For electric vehicles to achieve a range of 300 miles or more per charge, batteries must weigh thousands of pounds.
Some battery chemistries under development have the potential to pack more energy into smaller masses. But for now, there is a weight mismatch between EVs and small internal combustion engine vehicles. Electric vehicles also provide instant power to the wheels, allowing them to accelerate faster in most situations than most gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs.
Homendy said she is encouraged by the Biden administration’s plan to phase out vehicle carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis. But she said she remained concerned about the safety risks posed by the proliferation of electric vehicles on roads and highways.
“We have to be careful not to have an unintended consequence at the same time: more deaths on the road,” she said. “Safety, especially when it comes to new transportation policies and new technologies, cannot be ignored.”
Homendy noted that Ford’s F-150 Lightning EV pickup is 2,000 to 3,000 pounds (900 to 1,350 kilograms) heavier than a combustion version of the same model. The Mustang Mach E electric SUV and the Volvo XC40 EV are about 33 percent heavier than gasoline vehicles, she said.
“This has major implications for the safety of all road users,” Homendy added.
The NTSB investigates traffic accidents but has no authority to make regulations. For vehicles, such authority rests primarily with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Even with the exception of electric cars, America’s roads are crowded with heavy vehicles thanks to a decade-long boom in the sale of large cars, trucks and SUVs, which has resulted in a woeful mismatch in collisions with smaller vehicles. But electric cars are typically much heavier than the largest trucks and SUVs that run on gasoline or diesel.
Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said he’s also concerned about the weight of EVs because buyers appear to be asking for 300 miles or more per charge, which requires heavy batteries.
Building a charging network to accommodate this might be a mistake from a safety standpoint, Brooks said.
“These bigger, heavier batteries can do more damage,” he said. “It’s a simple matter of quality and speed.”
Brooks said he was aware of little research on the safety risks of adding weight to vehicles. In 2011, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper stating that the odds of being hit by a vehicle that weighs 1,000 pounds increase by 47 percent.
He pointed out that the horsepower rating of electric vehicles is very high, which can accelerate quickly even in crowded urban areas. “People aren’t trained to handle this kind of acceleration. It’s not something drivers are used to doing,” Brooks said.
Also, many newer electric SUVs are tall and have limited visibility, which poses a risk to pedestrians or drivers of small vehicles, he said.
Sales of new electric vehicles in the U.S. rose nearly 65% last year to 807,000, accounting for about 5.8% of all new vehicle sales. The Biden administration has set a goal of electric vehicles accounting for 50 percent of new car sales by 2030 and is offering tax credits of up to $7,500 to make it happen. Consultancy LMC Automotive has a more modest forecast: EVs are expected to account for a third of the new car market by 2030.