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Editorial: Rush to EVs has its dangers

Wisconsin is sitting in the on-ramp in the rush for electric vehicles (EV) as the push away from internal combustion engines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions heats up.

That has resulted in a concerted effort and a state plan to increase the number of charging stations for EVs, particularly along designated alternative fuel corridors, including the Interstate system and key highways in the state such as Highways 51, 53 and 151.

“This is really a great opportunity for Wisconsin to be ready (for EVs),” Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said this summer, “We can benefit on the environmental side and the economic side. It can be a win all the way around.”

Wisconsin’s draft plan to build out the state’s electric vehicle charging network is being built with the hopes of gaining federal approval from the Federal Highway Administration that would garner $78.7 million in federal funding to support creation of the network.

Currently, Wisconsin has only 550 charging stations across the state and many are concentrated in the Milwaukee and Madison areas. And, currently, the state has less than 10,000 EVs, including cars and trucks on the road – less than 0.1% of all vehicles.

But that is expected to change rapidly according to DOT projections which anticipate 334,000 EVs on the road by the end of the decade. That number could be buoyed by President Joe Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act which includes a $7,500 incentive off many new electric or plug-in hybrid cars or trucks without restricting the number of credits that a carmaker can receive.

But, before we head pell-mell down this road to “greening” the nation’s transportation fleet, we have to ask the question, “What about car and truck safety?” Isn’t this push toward electric vehicles also an opportunity to make our roads safer as well?

In a recent article in Slate magazine, David Zipper, a visiting fellow at Harvard Kenney School’s Tubman Center for State and Local Government, argues that “if the U.S. auto industry maintains its current habits, the incipient transition to electric cars could further the worsen the deadly carnage on America’s roads.”

Zipper wrote, “The United States is already a global outlier in traffic deaths. Unlike virtually all other develop countries where such fatalities declined during the past decade, the U.S. has seen an increase of over 30%. Today an American is more than twice as likely as a citizen of France or Canada to die in a crash.”

He cites several reasons for that – including that Americans drive a lot and take fewer transit trips, install fewer automatic traffic cameras and build more high-speed urban arterials.

But Zipper says there is another critical contributor to the U.S. surge in road fatalities: “the national penchant for tall, heavy pickup trucks and SUVs. The weight of these behemoths endangers other road users in a crash, and their height leads them to strike a person’s torso instead of their legs (it can also make it difficult to see those standing in front of the vehicle).

As evidence of that, Zipper notes that U.S. deaths among those on foot or a bicycle rose more than 40% during the last decade.

And that’s where the rub with EVs comes in.

Zipper wrote, “Electrified versions of SUVs and trucks can be even more dangerous. Large vehicles require massive batteries, which add tonnage. The Ford F-150, for instance, weighs around 6,500 pounds, about a third more than its gas-powered model. The Hummer EV is even more gigantic, tipping the scales at over 9,000 pounds, with a battery alone that is heavier than an entire Honda Civic. This additional weight creates force during a crash, increasing the danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and occupants of smaller cars.”

Zipper contends carmakers are celebrating the ability of electric cars to go from zero-to-60 speeds in a few seconds as a selling point, where, instead they should be redesigning their vehicles to make them safer by doing things – like restructuring the Ford F-150 which will no longer need a gasoline engine in front and giving the front end a slope to improve driver vision and making it more likely that a pedestrian or cyclist would roll off the hood.

He says one “promising model” for change comes from the District of Columbia which enacted a “creative vehicle registration fee schedule” that charges owners of vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds $500, seven times more than a light sedans.

Another option, Zipper says, is to add “pedestrian car worthiness” to federal car crash ratings to estimate crash risk borne by those outside the vehicle – as is done in Europe, Australia in Japan.

“So far, however, neither Congress nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has signaled a desire to ensure that car electrification leads to vehicles that are safer as well as greener. There need not be a tradeoff between efforts to halt climate change and reduce the surging number of road deaths.”

We concur with much of what Zipper is saying. We’re glad that Wisconsin is preparing for the coming surge in EVs, but road safety and car/truck safety improvements should not take a back seat to the greening of Wisconsin’s transportation system.

The rise of EVs poses the potential to do both.

— Kenosha News

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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