Big, heavy vehicles are dangerous—and that goes for electric ones, too

A transition to electric vehicles may mean rethinking safety measures.
The GMC Hummer EV weighs a whopping 9,000 pounds. That's about the same as three regular Honda Civics. GMC

There are a multitude of wonderful aspects about electric vehicles—they have a low carbon footprint, are pretty easy to maintain compared to gas guzzlers, and affordable options seem to be expanding. But, just like most solutions, they come with drawbacks—when an EV gets in a crash, it can be more expensive and more destructive than a typical accident. 

One reason why an EV crash can be so disastrous is their weight. To get an electric car from place to place requires energy that utilizes batteries. And for cars that can handle a lot of range and power, those batteries add up. For instance, a GMC Hummer EV weighs over 9,000 pounds, around 2,900 of which is just batteries. Similar distinctions exist between the electric and ICE (internal combustion engine) versions of the Ford F-150 Lightning, Mustang Mach-E, Volvo XC40 EV, and RAV4 EV. These electric versions may have lost the need for gasoline—but they’ve taken on some serious weight in return.  

The startling difference between EVs and their ICE counterparts was the focus of a keynote speech at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting on Wednesday from National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy.

“The U.S. transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and I firmly believe it is a human right to breathe clean air,” she said. “But we have to be careful that we aren’t also creating unintended consequences: more death on our roads.”​  

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These concerns aren’t particularly new, at least when it comes to concerns about heavy vehicles in general. As far back as 2011 Michael Anderson, a University of California professor of economics, published a study that found that being hit by a car 1,000 lbs heavier than your own results in a 47 percent increase in the probability of your fatality. 

Nowadays, when there are not only big cars but big electric cars on the road, it can be worrisome for drivers in small cars, whether they are electric or gasoline powered. “What matters is less the average weight than the heterogeneity,” Anderson told Bloomberg last year. “There could be a window where it’s pretty unsafe to be driving (small, gas-powered vehicles) and getting into multi-vehicle accidents.”

Research is already underway to make EV batteries lighter, denser, and safer. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that policymakers, corporations, and consumers are aware of the risks that EVs pose to everyone on the road.