UNL researchers test roadside barriers against heavy EVs in new study

Feb. 1, 2024, 4 p.m. ·

Cody Stolle, assistant director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, shows a video of a Tesla Model 3 crashing into a guardrail at 62 miles per hour. (Photo by Brian Beach/Nebraska Public Media News)

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As electric vehicles become more common on the roads, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility are looking at how existing roadside barriers hold up against heavier EVs.

The Midwest Roadside Safety Facility developed the nation’s most common roadside barrier system after conducting crash tests in the early 2000s.

But as the proportion of electric vehicles grows, facility assistant director Cody Stolle said there is a need to test how the barriers respond to electric vehicles, which can be up to 50% heavier than their gas-powered counterparts.

“We know that electrical vehicles have some different properties compared to gasoline vehicles equivalents, namely the increase in mass, but also changes in the structure and the size,” Stolle said. “Those bring the potential for poor interactions with our barrier systems again.”

While all-electric vehicles go through crash testing by their manufacturers, Stolle said those tests are typically conducted at 30 miles per hour.

The Midwest Roadside Safety Facility crash tests brought vehicles to speeds of 62 miles per hour and crashed them into guardrails at a 25-degree angle.

“None of the evaluations currently conducted by automotive manufacturers, or by national agencies, investigate oblique types of impacts such as those shown here,” Stolle said, indicating the facility’s crash test video.

In the crash tests, a Tesla Model 3 sedan lifted the guardrail and passed below it, while a 7,000-pound Rivian pickup truck tore through the barrier with only a slight decrease in speed.

Similarly sized gas-powered trucks each stayed within the guardrails during earlier tests.

Next, Stolle said facility researchers plan to develop a new barrier system that will be more accommodating to a broader range of vehicles.