Scientists Use Rivian R1T To Demonstrate EVs Are Too Heavy For Highways

Crash / Comments

American guardrails are not strong enough to stop a 7,000-pound pickup truck.

The Rivian R1T has demonstrated the hazards of overweight electric vehicles by crashing straight through a guardrail designed to stop a traditional ICE-powered vehicle. The crash test was performed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility (MwRSF), and the research was sponsored by the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in partnership with Auburn University's Transportation Research Institute.

The test was conducted to see whether a guardrail still functions as intended when hit by a 7,000-pound electric truck, and the US Military wanted to know whether its protection measures against hostile vehicles are ready for the growing number of EVs.

The answer is quite obvious now if you look at the footage filmed by UNL below.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube

According to UNL, thousands of fatalities each year result from more than 100,000 run-off crashes involving traffic infrastructure like guardrails. "There is some urgency to address this issue," said Cody Stolle, MwRSF's assistant director. "As the percentage of EVs on the road increases, the proportion of run-off-road crashes involving EVs will increase as well."

For the record, the guardrail was invented to lessen the severity of crashes. Its primary purpose is to deflect a vehicle away from a more hazardous environment behind it, like a sheer drop or a forest full of trees. It also helps to slow a car down. As you can see in the footage above, the Federal Highway Administration's standardized guardrail failed to deflect the sheer force of an R1T traveling at 60 mph.

The guardrail in question was 12-gauge corrugated steel attached to six-inch deep steel posts, anchored by eight to 12-inch thick blackouts. They stand 31 inches tall and have no problem stopping a traditional truck like an ICE-powered Ford F-150.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube

Now that this world-first crash test has been conducted, additional crash tests are being planned. Once this is done, all parties involved will sit down and determine future steps. "The US Army Corps of Engineers mission is to deliver vital engineering solutions, in collaboration with our partners, to secure our nation, energize our economy, and reduce disaster risk," said Genevieve Pezzola, a research civil engineer at ERDC. "It is critical to conduct these EV baseline comparison tests to understand any potential risks to our nation. This work is the first necessary step towards ensuring that our nation's protection measures, such as roadside barrier systems and barriers to protect against hostile vehicles, are adapting to accommodate for the changing composition of the vehicle fleet."

With EV sales on an upward trajectory and an electric vehicle - the Tesla Model Y - as the best-selling vehicle in the world, the situation is only going to get worse.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube University of Nebraska–Lincoln/YouTube

The MwRSF's research shows no difference between the rate of run-off crashes between EVs and ICE. The big difference is that an EV weighs around 20-50% more than their ICE counterparts, which means 20-50% more energy on impact. "It is going to be necessary to re-examine the designs of roadside barriers even beyond the EVs," said Stolle. "It's a critical and timely need."

This is not the first time the question of heavy EVs and crashing has come up. In 2022, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) started to benchmark its respected testing system to prepare for heavy electric vehicles. Less than a year later, the IIHS called for lower speed limits because of the carnage these cars can create.

In this case, the R1T is the model that will suffer from reputational damage, but let's not forget that the GMC Hummer EV weighs 9,500 lbs and can get to 60 mph in three seconds. But these cars are only available with electric powertrains, so the difference is best demonstrated using the gas-powered Ford F-150 and the F-150 Lightning.

A Ford F-150 in Platinum trim weighs 5,038 lbs at the most, while the Lightning in the same trim tips the scales at 6,893 lbs...

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