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HomeGadgetsCrash tests reveal freeway guardrails fail to protect Tesla, Rivian EV vehicles

Crash tests reveal freeway guardrails fail to protect Tesla, Rivian EV vehicles

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First / azfamily) – Thousands of electric vehicle drivers and their passengers may not be protected if involved in a crash with barriers meant to keep them alive.

Newly released crash tests reveal guardrails failed involving two popular models on the road today: the Tesla Model 3 sedan and the Rivian R1T pickup.

The video, obtained exclusively by Atlanta News First Investigates, shows when the Tesla hit a guardrail at 62 miles per hour, the vehicle went through the barrier.

Guardrails are meant to stop, deflect, or absorb the impact of a crash to prevent the vehicle from hitting objects on the other side, like oncoming traffic, trees, or driving off a steep embankment.

University of Nebraska researchers who conducted the test were surprised with the results.

“What we saw in the test was that maybe there were other design features in the electric vehicles that aren’t as compatible with our hardware as the current vehicle fleet is,” said Bob Bielenberg, a research engineer with the university who presented the crash results during a Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2024.

The test was funded by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Engineering Research and Development Center.

When researchers tested a Rivian electric truck, it also plowed through the barrier.

Researchers say more testing is needed, but preliminary results show the weight and design of the electric vehicles may contribute to the problem.

Rivian trucks weigh nearly 2,000 pounds more than conventional pickups.

Electric vehicle batteries are typically installed under the vehicle, giving it a low center of gravity. While the design makes it more difficult for those vehicles to roll over, the tests show some road barriers may not be equipped to protect electric vehicle drivers.

“I don’t think it’s hugely alarming,” Bielenberg said. “It’s just things we’re trying to learn about the electrical vehicle fleet as they come online and we’re trying to get ahead of it,”

Tesla did not respond to interview requests.

Rivian, which is building a manufacturing plant an hour east of Atlanta, also declined to discuss the test results. In an email, it highlighted its pickup trucks received top safety honors from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2023.

The test results alarmed some vehicle owners and transportation safety advocates, including Steve Eimers, who has dedicated his life to improving highway barriers after his 17-year-old daughter died in a crash due to an alleged defective guardrail in 2016.

“They are going to fail,” Eimers said. “This is alarming.”

Eimers attended the TRB conference and watched Bielenberg’s presentation. When he looked around the room, he says he didn’t see anyone representing automakers.

He said the conference and the crash test results show the need for better collaboration between safety barriers engineers and electric automakers.

“We need Elon Musk to have the same seriousness with which he runs SpaceX to come to the table and say ‘Hey, we have an issue with the Tesla,’” Eimers said.

Atlanta resident Javier Flores purchased his dream car, a Tesla Model 3, about a year ago. The test results concerned him, too.

“I don’t really know what Tesla should do or what infrastructure we can have on the highways, but a change needs to happen,” Flores said.

“I’m probably going to die if that happens to me,” Flores said after watching the crash test video.

Atlanta resident Angel Luis Poventud owns a Rivian truck. He said the test results are concerning, but he’s not planning to return the vehicle. He loves the truck and the company.

“I look forward to Rivian getting this information and seeing what they do with it, because they are extremely engaged and they don’t want to make vehicles that aren’t safe on the road,” he said.

Interview requests with the U.S. Department of Transportation went unanswered.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also declined to comment, but emphasized in an email the state adheres to all guidance set by the American Association of State Highway and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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