In recent years, the weight of vehicles has been steadily increasing, posing a potential risk to old multi-story car parks. The average weight of vehicles has been gradually rising since the dawn of the automobile industry. In 1974, it was 1.5 tons, whereas today it is 2 tons. Moreover, electric vehicles are comparatively heavier. The heavier vehicles, especially top-end models like SUVs, have the potential to overload and weaken older car park structures, increasing the risk of collapse. In April 2023, a multi-story car park in New York City collapsed, possibly caused by the increased vehicle weight. Authorities are investigating the fatal collapse. A team of 10 engineers was commissioned by the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). The issues around the multi-story car parks will be addressed by them. An updated design will also be presented for further proceedings.
The review conducted by the engineers concluded that car park owners should have their buildings inspected by engineering firms to assess the need for strengthening. In cases where strengthening measures are not feasible or cost-effective, the experts recommended imposing a vehicle weight limit of up to two and a-half tons on older buildings. This weight limit would help mitigate the risk of collapse and ensure the safety of the car park’s users. Chris Whapples, an IStructE fellow involved in the review, emphasized that not all multi-story car parks across the UK need to be closed or strengthened. Essentially, the focus should be on the old structures built in the 1960s and 1970s. Due to age and lack of maintenance, the current state would be poor. Whapples stressed that the risk of collapse primarily stems from heavier vehicles, such as SUVs, rather than small city electric cars or average family saloons.
The report also addressed other aspects of car park design, including accessibility for motorists with mobility issues and implementing physical measures to deter suicide attempts. It stressed designing car parks that accommodate the evolution of the automobile industry toward electric and hybrid vehicles. The rise of EVs has become evident. Governments, including the UK, plan to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030. However, the increase in electric vehicle adoption, coupled with aging parking infrastructure, has raised concerns in the sector. The weight disparity between modern vehicles and those from the 1960s and 1970s has become more pronounced, necessitating updated design considerations for car park structures.
The potential for collapse in poorly maintained car parks was highlighted by Chris Whapples, who led the team of engineers in updating design recommendations. Whapples urged car park operators to be aware of electric vehicle weights, assess the structural strength of their facilities, and consider implementing weight limits if necessary. As the automotive landscape continues to evolve with an expected increase in EV usage, it becomes crucial to address the impact on existing infrastructure and take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and viability of multi-story car parks.