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Car park safety at risk from electric vehicles

Car parks will need to be re-assessed for heavier vehicles

Car parks will need to undergo safety checks to ensure they can cope with the switch to bigger and heavier electric cars.

The average car already weighs two tonnes, compared to 1.5 tonnes in the mid-1970s, and the advent of vehicles with batteries means they are putting an extra load on car parks, as well as creating additional fire risks.

New guidance from the Institution of Structural Engineers is that the design, construction and maintenance of car parks needs careful consideration as they evolve from just parking places to recharging and storage of vehicles, alongside e-bikes and e-scooters. 

The institution says these factors need urgent consideration as the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK by 2030, and hybrid cars and vans by 2035.

Ten experts contributed to the guidance, including overseeing consultant, Chris Whapples, a fellow of the institution, who said: “Car park safety is paramount, especially given the learnings from structural failures, including the Pipers Row floor collapse in Wolverhampton in 1997.

“This guidance is made increasingly relevant with the recent, tragic collapse of a car park in Manhattan, New York which is currently being investigated.” 

The report, Car Park Design, covers the design, construction and asset management of all car park structures, including standalone multi-storey car parks, underground car parks and those within buildings used for offices, residential and retail.

It highlights that a number of serious fires have happened in car parks which were designed to current guidance, and that in certain circumstances, this may not produce a fire-safe design.  

Mark Pundsack, also a fellow of the institution, said: “As we move to using more electric or hybrid cars, we are now exposed to risks from vehicle compositions and propulsion systems which current design guidance does not acknowledge.

“We have moral and legal duties to make buildings accessible for all — and car parks are no exception.”  

The Institution’s guidance dedicates a chapter to the often-overlooked mental health aspects of car park design, with important consideration given to the various physical measures that can be part of the building to deter suicide attempts. 

Mr Pundsack adds: “The car parks built today or those being renovated and re-used need to be designed with all this in mind if these structures are to remain viable and useful in a rapidly changing world.” 

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