Early testing suggests highway guardrails not built for heavy EVs

Preliminary crash testing finds that the nation’s guardrails may not be suitable for heavy electric vehicles (EVs).

A test crash conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility involved a nearly 4-ton 2022 Rivian R1T. When the pickup truck crashed through a metal guardrail and barely slowed down before hitting a concrete barrier, it came as little surprise to the researchers.

“We knew it was going to be an extremely demanding test of the roadside safety system,” Cody Stolle, a member of the facility, told The Associated Press. “The system was not made to handle vehicles greater than 5,000 pounds.”

The test crash was intended to see how guardrails, which are set up along tens of thousands of miles of roads in the United States, would fare against electric vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds more than an average sedan.

As EVs become more popular among efforts to lower emissions on the road, transportation officials have growing concerns over the weight disparity between lighter gas-powered cars and the new, heavier electric options, the AP reported.

Electric vehicles are heavier due to the batteries needed to achieve their travel range. The batteries can weigh almost as much as a small gas-powered car.

The current guardrail system in place across the United States was developed as an “inexpensive, high-performing barrier.” In the past, the system was tested with lighter weight cars, but not much has been clear about how the system would handle electric vehicles until now, the university explained in a press release Wednesday.

Road safety officials warn that while electric vehicles protect their occupants, they prove to be dangerous to people in lighter cars.

Stolle told The AP the Rivian truck that was tested in Nebraska showed almost no damage to the interior after it crashed.

“Guardrails are kind of a safety feature of last resort,” Michael Brooks, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety said. “I think what you’re seeing here is the real concern with EVs — their weight. There are a lot of new vehicles in this larger-size range coming out in that 7,000-pound range. And that’s a concern.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Research and Development Center, which sponsored the test crash, also crashed a Tesla, which lifted the guardrail and went under it.

Stolle said more testing is necessary, but as electric vehicles continue to rise in popularity, the guardrail problem will become more prevalent and there is urgency to address the issue.

“We need to know as much as we can now because it takes time to design new systems, evaluate them and confirm those results with full-scale crash testing,” Stolle said in the release. “Then, state departments of transportation around the country can begin the process of upgrading roadside barriers to new versions with more robustness.”

The Associated Press contributed.

— Updated 5:21 p.m.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.