Heavy Electric Pickups Are a Safety Concern, Says NTSB Head

She also makes a big call for zero deaths.

Hummer EV


U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy said out loud what many have been muttering: Electric trucks are dangerously heavy and powerful.

“I’m concerned about the increased risk of severe injury and death for all road users from heavier curb weights and increasing size, power, and performance of vehicles on our roads, including electric vehicles," she said in a speech to the Transportation Research Board.

“A GMC Hummer EV weighs over 9,000 pounds, up from about 6,000 pounds. Its gross vehicle weight rating is a staggering 10,550 pounds," Homendy added. "The battery pack alone weighs over 2,900 pounds — about the weight of a Honda Civic. The Ford F-150 Lightning is between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds heavier than the non-electric version. The Mustang Mach-E, Volvo XC40 EV, and RAV4 EV are all roughly 33% heavier. That has a significant impact on safety for all road users.”

No doubt Homendy is getting the kind of abuse on Twitter that one gets when suggesting that these giant electric pickup trucks are unnecessarily big and powerful, much like what I have received. A recurring theme is: "you aren't gonna stop people from driving pickups, How about ENCOURAGING them to drive an electric one!?I WTH!" Homendy is getting the likes of: "What kind of batteries does Jennifer Homendy expect these special use truck to use? A package of triple-A batteries from Sam's Club?"

Homendy continued:

"Now I want to be clear: I’m inspired by the Administration’s commitment to phasing out carbon emissions. We do have a climate crisis that needs to be addressed. 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. But we have to be careful that we aren’t also creating unintended consequences: more death on our roads. Safety, especially when it comes to new transportation policies and new technologies, cannot be overlooked. Ever. "

The NTSB doesn't regulate the design of vehicles; that is the purview of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Until recently, the NHTSA studiously avoided dealing with the safety of anyone outside of a vehicle, to the point where lawyer Greg Shill has said, "NHTSA’s decision not to act has left pedestrians at the mercy of heavier and taller vehicles."

However, Reuters reports, citing acting NHTSA administrator Ann Carlson, that the agency was "very concerned" about the "degree to which heavier vehicles contribute to greater fatality rates." Carlson noted that many people think bigger is safer but then nodded to those outside of the vehicle: "Bigger is safer if you don't look at the communities surrounding you and you don't look at the other vehicles on the road." 

So perhaps we shall finally see some action on vehicle size and design, and more attention to the people who are outside of the vehicle from both the NHTSA and the NTSB. Later in her speech, Homendy discussed this in the framework of vision zero:

"We’re fighting for the 43,000 people who die annually on our roads and the millions more who are injured. Not just drivers but all road users. No matter their race, ethnicity, ability, income, or where they live. No matter whether they’re walking, biking, rolling or driving."

She then called for zero deaths: "Zero in every mode of transportation. Plenty of people think zero deaths is an unrealistic goal. I remember one op-ed called zero a 'pipedream' when Secretary Buttigieg embraced the goal last year." Recalling John F. Kennedy's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out, she called for zero deaths—"Zero is our moon shot."

Sounding more like Churchill than Kennedy, she concluded: "I promise you this: we will never, ever give up. Until there’s no longer a need for our safety recommendations. Until there’s no longer a need for the NTSB. Until we have a safe transportation system for all. Until there’s zero."

Powerful words coming from the head of the agency responsible for "making transportation safer by conducting independent accident investigations [and] advocating safety improvements." Taken together with the word of NHTSA's Carlson, we might someday see safer streets and less deadly vehicles. I can hope ... at least until I look at Twitter.