Sections of Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50 in California were closed for days in late December due to record-breaking snowstorms in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When U.S. 50 finally opened on Dec. 27, motorists attempting to leave the Lake Tahoe area for western California found themselves in a traffic jam that lasted hours.
Some social media users blamed the traffic jam on electric cars.
“Roads are jam-blocked by electric cars with dead batteries from idling to keep occupants warm all night,” claimed a Facebook post dated Dec. 29, 2021. “Snows falling, road crews can’t plow due to hundreds of dead battery cars stuck in road blocking everyone else.”
The post was shared 2,000 times in five days.
But nothing of the sort actually happened.
Multiple state agencies confirmed massive snowstorms had shut down roadways, but they said traffic jams had nothing to do with electric vehicles.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook users who shared the post for comment.
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“Traffic congestion last week was due to an abundance of vehicles all trying to leave South Lake Tahoe at the same time when U.S. Highway 50 reopened and Interstate 80 remained closed,” Kevin Kuckenmeister, a Caltrans maintenance supervisor, told USA TODAY in an email. “Dead electrical vehicles were not responsible for traffic congestion.”
I-80 is a larger capacity roadway than U.S. 50, but both can be used to traverse the Sierra Nevadas between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.
When U.S. 50 reopened, people who had been waiting to leave the Lake Tahoe area engaged in a “mass exodus” toward western California that “overloaded the capacity of the highway,” Raquel Borrayo, a Caltrans spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email.
Kuckenmeister said a jack-knifed semitruck and a separate multivehicle collision on the freshly reopened U.S. 50 also contributed to the traffic jam.
Though I-80 and U.S. 50 were not closed in Nevada, travel backed up over the state border.
“There were severe travel delays as a lot of visitors who had been in Nevada for the Christmas holiday returned via U.S. 50 to California,” Meg Ragonese, a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Transportation, told USA TODAY.
These delays led to roughly 35-mile traffic back-ups, according to Ragonese.
“We are not aware of any electric vehicle issues associated with that delay,” she said.
The social media posts claim the traffic jam allegedly caused by hundreds of dead electric cars made it impossible “to even get portable generators to dead batteries,” further compounding the problem.
However, the Nevada State Police “did not respond to any calls or stop out with any stranded electric vehicles during the recent snowstorms,” Trooper Charles Caster, a Nevada Highway Patrol spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email.
Caster said he saw dozens of functioning electric vehicles while patrolling highways in the Reno, Nevada, area during the inclement weather. But he didn’t see any non-operational vehicles stopped in or alongside roadways.
Throughout much of the I-80 closure, Kuckenmeister said there were electric vehicles on the side of the road in the Tahoe City, California, area, but they weren’t blocking traffic. He said he didn’t have any information about why they were stopped or whether their batteries were dead.
The post also claimed gridlocked dead electric cars made it impossible to plow.
“This is a false claim,” said Borrayo.
There were downed trees and powerlines as well as massive amounts of snow that had to be removed from the roadways before they could be reopened, she said, noting that the process was slow going.
Officer Carlos Perez, a spokesperson for California Highway Patrol Truckee, reiterated that traffic jams were not caused by dead electric cars and said California Highway Patrol would have mobilized to help if hundreds of dead electric cars were blocking the roadway.
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Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that dead electric cars caused a massive traffic jam during a California snowstorm. According to representatives from multiple state agencies, traffic jams associated with the storm occurred when motorists attempting to leave the Lake Tahoe area overwhelmed roadways.
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