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Transportation Issues: The Impact of Electric Truck Batteries on U.S. Road Weight Limits

The implementation of electric truck batteries has raised concerns about the impact on the U.S. road weight limit. Dive into these transportation issues.

The recent adoption of electric vehicles for not only passenger cars, but commercial trucks as well, has become a controversial topic throughout the U.S. transportation industry. We can all appreciate the benefits of leveraging electric trucks to become more sustainable, reduce emissions, and increase efficiency. However, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, electric vehicles are heavy. And we’d be foolish to believe there are no associated ramifications or transportation issues this excess weight will bring to our roads.

An electric vehicle battery alone weighs anywhere between 1,000 and 2,900 pounds! But Bloomberg Law reports that electric “batteries for long-range trucks could add 5,300 pounds.” To put this in perspective for you, a typical sedan weighs approximately 2,500 pounds. That means these electric batteries—by themselves—add an extra car’s amount of weight to the truck they power. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation has set road weight limits to ensure the safety of passengers, truck drivers, and even roadside wildlife from dangerous road conditions. Yet, the implementation of electric truck batteries has raised concerns about the associated impact on the federal weight limit for commercial trucks. Let’s talk about it.

How Much is Too Much? The U.S. Road Weight Limit

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Network Vehicle Size and Weight Standards highlights these transportation issues and sets guidelines to follow. It states: 

“Federal weight standards apply to commercial vehicle operations only on the Interstate Highway System, which consists of approximately 50,000 miles of limited access, divided highways that span the Nation. Off the Interstate Highway System, States may set their own commercial vehicle weight standards. Federal standards for commercial vehicle maximum weights on the Interstate Highway System are as follows: Single Axle – 20,000 lbs.; Tandem Axle – 34,000 lbs.; GVW – 80,000 lbs.”

In other words, federal law mandates the maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) limit is 80,000 pounds. You might be thinking, okay, so there should be plenty of room for heavier electric batteries, right? Not necessarily. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • The unladen weight of a typical commercial vehicle varies between 10,000 and 25,000 pounds
  • A semi-truck connected to an empty trailer weighs ~35,000 pounds
  • The unladen weight of these trucks is dependent on the engine size, tow capabilities, and cab type

Unladen weight accounts for the weight of the vehicle when it’s empty. So let’s say the unladen weight of a diesel-powered commercial tractor-trailer is approximately 25,000 pounds. 

The laden weight can vary depending on the overall weight of the load. So if the load weighs approximately 53,000 pounds, the total laden weight for this tractor-trailer is 78,000 pounds. 

If we were to take this load, and put it on the same type of tractor-trailer (i.e. size, weight, etc.) but the vehicle was electric and required a heavier battery, the total laden weight would likely exceed the federal law’s maximum GVW at approximately 81,000 pounds. This added weight can cause many challenges and inefficiencies for suppliers. Let’s take a look at a few of them below.

Electric Truck Batteries & Their Associated Challenges 

Supply Chain Disruptions

Suppliers may need to lessen their loads to accommodate the U.S. road weight limits when using electric vehicles and their heavy batteries. This can lead to supply chain disruptions. It’s likely the added weight of the electric battery will force suppliers to use multiple trucks to carry out a single shipment with an electric vehicle. Meanwhile, it’s possible the entire load could be shipped with one diesel truck without breaking the federal weight limit. 

Environmental Transportation Issues

Depending on the battery’s manufacturer, electric truck batteries can be made up of lithium-ion, nickel, cobalt, lead, hydrofluoric acid, and other compounds. These chemicals are densely packed together, giving these batteries a large mass. While these batteries are built sustainably, people can’t help but question what events would occur if the batteries were to become damaged in a crash or other accident. 

For example, hydrofluoric acid is extremely corrosive and toxic and it can be potentially fatal if it is absorbed into human tissue. Not to mention, lithium-ion batteries cause electric vehicles to burn longer and more intensely than gas or diesel-operated vehicles. In fact, “a typical car fire would require water from a single [fire] engine, an estimated 500 gallons. An electrical fire could need 6,000 gallons or more.”

Poorly Structured Roads and Bridges

If you’ve ever driven around a major metropolitan area, odds are you’ve hit a pothole… or 17. It should come as no surprise that approximately 1 in 10 U.S. roads are in poor condition. Plus, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association reports 1 in 3 U.S. bridges need repair or replacement.

So the question is, can these poorly structured roads and bridges handle the added weight of electric truck batteries? If these trucks were to stop abruptly on the road, how would their increased weight impact the quality of the roads? These are the ongoing questions transportation leaders need to address as the industry progressively shifts to a total electric truck infrastructure.

The Future of Transportation

Despite these transportation issues, it seems as though electric trucks (for commercial and personal use) are gaining popularity. By 2026, the global electric truck market is expected to grow to 324,100 units at a CAGR of 73.65%. This is a drastic increase from the approximately 10,200 commercial vehicles that existed in 2018.

California is now requiring more manufacturers to sell electric trucks beginning in 2024. And by 2035, 50% of California’s truck sales must be electric, regardless of class. And we understand why. Shifting to electric vehicles will reduce greenhouse emissions in California by 17.8 million metric tons. Other states like New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington are following suit with their own regulations and laws put in place to accommodate electric trucks. Even the federal government is imposing “clean fleets” such as all-electric vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service.

To accommodate these weighty changes, it is expected that the federal government will raise the maximum gross vehicle weight above 80,000. This will ensure that suppliers can leverage electric trucks while still maximizing their load capacity on the truck. 

Final Thoughts

The adoption of electric trucks has brought about significant changes and challenges in the U.S. transportation industry. One of the most pressing issues is the added weight of electric vehicle batteries. These batteries can cause several transportation issues, such as supply chain disruptions, environmental concerns, and potential damage to poorly structured roads and bridges. 

However, despite these challenges, the use of electric trucks is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. It’s clear electric vehicles are the future of transportation, but there is a need for collaboration between transportation leaders and industry experts to ensure a seamless transition to electric truck infrastructure while maintaining road safety and environmental sustainability.

What are your plans for navigating the shift to electric vehicles? Let us help you ensure you get the capacity you need at the right price, all while prioritizing sustainability. Get in touch with us to get started.