Electric cars tend to need extra bulk for their gigantic battery packs, and that’s raising eyebrows at the National Transportation Safety Board. In a keynote speech, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said she was worried the size and weight of modern EVs could increase the risk of serious injuries and death. A Hummer EV is over 9,000lbs, the board leader said, while electrified versions of vehicles like the Ford F-150 and Volvo XC40 are far heavier than their gas engine equivalents.
Homendy stressed that she supported the Biden administration’s environmental goals, and that transportation represented the largest contributor to American greenhouse gas emissions. She just felt that automakers had to be wary of creating “unintended consequences,” such as more road fatalities.
There is some data to suggest that EVs’ added weight may pose a danger. Green Car Congress pointed to a 2021 commentary in Nature where researchers calculated that the mortality costs of the F-150 Lightning’s extra 700kg (1,543lbs) over the gas model ‘rival’ its zero-emissions benefits. The chances of passengers dying in a collision increase 12 percent with every 500kg (1,102lbs) of weight difference, the research team said. While those issues might diminish as more EVs reach the market, they could remain a problem as long as combustion engine and electric cars have to share the road.
Technical solutions might help. Scientists are already developing lighter batteries, and the first EVs with denser solid-state batteries (which can achieve similar range with smaller packs) are only a few years away. While EVs with this technology are still likely to be heavier than their fossil fuel-burning counterparts, the weight reduction could improve safety in addition to range.
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