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UNL researchers find concerning results in guardrail crash tests involving electric vehicles

Posted at 2:38 PM, Jan 31, 2024

LINCOLN — Year after year the number of electric vehicles being sold continues to grow.

According to Kelly Blue Book fully electric vehicles accounted for just over 8% of new vehicles sales in the US by the end of last year…and all of these new EVs have started to catch the attention of road safety experts.

“When they first came out they were mostly focused on small vehicles and now we are starting to get into larger vehicles, when we saw the masses get above what we typically test that started raising some red flags with us,” said Bob Bielenberg, a research engineer at UNL’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility.

To see how EV’s stacked up to combustion vehicles researchers at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, the folks who designed the most commonly used roadside barriers across the country, decided to drive two of the most popular EV’s straight into a guardrail to see how it held up.

The test subjects were a Tesla Model three and a Rivian R1T, both crashed into the barrier at 62 mph and at a 25 degree angle.

When testing the Tesla the guardrails manage to redirect the car for just a moment before the Model 3 tore through the barrier completely.

The results for the Rivian were even worse.

The much heavier and larger Rivian blew through the barrier before breaking through a second concrete safety barrier.

So why do EV’s perform so much worse than combustion vehicles?

“Battery vehicles mount most of their mass down below the occupant compartment which changes the center of gravity of the vehicle, and as well these vehicles tend to be heavier. Batteries themselves weigh more than the engines do in internal combustion vehicles ,” said Cody Stolle, Assistant Director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility.

With more than 100,000 run off road crashes that involve roadside barriers happening every year researchers believe updates to our safety infrastructure need to happen soon, so they can have their infrastructure in place before EVs take over the road.

“What we are trying to do is stay one step ahead of what the fleet is doing, or at least keep up with it so we can address the issues before they are a big enough number in the fleet that’s its a big issue,” said Bielenberg.