Large electric vehicles push road safety to the limit

1 year ago
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American roads looked Another thing is when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the early 1990s created its own crash test system capable of crashing cars. Rear cameras didn’t exist, airbags weren’t mandatory, and safety regulations not killed yet retractable headlight. But perhaps the biggest difference is that the cars were much less heavy—about a quarter lighter than today’s cars.

Raul Arbelaez, who oversees crash testing at the IIHS, has seen this transformation over the course of his twenty-year career as sedans become “crossovers” and minivans become SUVs. The non-profit lab tests most of the popular cars on the market, and automakers are craving approval for its safety. But until recently, he had no reason to doubt that IIHS equipment would be up to the task of crashing heavier vehicles. That reason was the Hummer EV.

At over 9,000 pounds (4,000 kg), the electric SUV is about a third heavier than the heaviest vehicle the IIHS has ever tested, which turned out to be another electric vehicle, the Rivian R1T, and more than twice as heavy as the average American car. which weighs about 4,000 pounds. So Arbelaez bought some cheap old pickups and started loading them with concrete to match the weight of the Hummer. Despite the additional load on the cables, the system survived. The pickup made a splash and the video from the test went viral.

To prepare for heavy electric vehicles like the electric Hummer, the IIHS has crash-tested pickup trucks loaded with concrete.

But Arbelaez is still worried. The trucks and SUVs that have filled US roads over the past two decades are exceptionally good at protecting their passengers. But many of the same qualities that help improve a car’s safety rating, including increased frame rigidity, size and weight, also make them more dangerous to everyone else. Vehicle safety standards basically reflect the safety of people inside the vehicle, not outside. And despite improvements in safety technology and car design, heavier vehicles in recent years have contributed to an increase in road deaths, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, especially among pedestrians, cyclists and people operating small vehicles. Now electric vehicles tip the scales even more. They often combine the hefty size of super-sized SUVs with a battery that itself weighs as much as a small sedan. Oh, and also lightning-fast acceleration.

When WIRED reported this to General Motors, spokesman Michael Farah pointed to data linking pedestrian deaths to factors such as deteriorating pedestrian infrastructure, increased speeds and drunk driving. ( the same study noted that SUV deaths were rising faster than automobiles, and that crashes involving heavier vehicles tend to be more serious.) The company also pointed to Hummer safety features such as larger brakes and avoidance systems. collisions.

But Arbelaes is not alone in his concerns. Last month, in an appeal to fellow security experts, Jennifer Homendy, head of the US National Transportation Safety Board, highlighted the “unintended consequences” of electric vehicles – not just Hummers, but electric Volvos, Fords and Toyotas, which carry thousands of pounds more weight than ordinary cars. similar size. “This has a significant impact on the safety of all road users,” she said.

It’s a difficult balance. Both Homendy and Arbelaes say they are passionate about electric vehicles and have a deep interest in tackling climate change. But if automakers or regulators don’t find ways to reduce the weight of vehicles, they also fear that the permanent effects of the increase in size will not abate: the only way to feel safe on the roads with massive cars is to barricade yourself in one of your own.

WIRED: So you’ve been crashing some really heavy cars. Why?

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