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IIHS vice president mulls safety in an era of large, weighty EVs


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In November, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety loaded an old Ford pickup with enough ballast to make the truck weigh 9,500 pounds, then ran the Ford through the IIHS crash test apparatus. The organization wanted to ensure its equipment could perform as needed as we enter an age of ubiquitous electric vehicles. The equipment passed with no problem. But the organization's been reflecting on issues outside the test area, with recent commentary by vice president Raul Arbelaez asking how we might mitigate the effects of really heavy cars exacerbating weight disparities in crashes with other cars, as well as the potential additional damage done to pedestrians and cyclists.

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At no point does the commentary take a stance against EVs. Arbelaez writes, "We don’t need to put the brakes on electrification — there are good reasons for it — and we’re not doomed to reverse all the safety gains of recent decades. But the development will require some new thinking about the kinds of vehicles we want on our roads."

His piece opens the discussion on the secondary features he believes automakers and government should be thinking about when millions of cars weigh as much as, or thousands of pounds more than, a Chevrolet Suburban; or, at the other end, when the Chevrolet Bolt EUV weighs as much as a Mercedes E-Class sedan depending on trim. "Today’s supersized EVs are a double whammy of weight and horsepower," Arbelaez writes, and he doesn't seem convinced that safety features like brakes or the spread of crash-avoidance systems have kept up. He wonders if additional crash structures could be integrated into EVs to protect passengers in other, lighter vehicles because the "increased protection [in a heavier EV] comes at the expense of people in other vehicles."

The easiest suggestion to get alarmed about is when he writes, "States and local governments should consider lowering speed limits, factoring in the increased danger from weight disparities, and backing them up with increased enforcement." That might not be necessary if he got his wish of limiting EV weight, perhaps through better battery technology or smaller batteries since "The ability to travel 400 miles on a charge is convenient but unnecessary for most commutes." But until then, "We need to double down on existing solutions" in order to maintain decades of safety advances. Check out the full piece at the IIHS site.