Recently, fire personnel and paramedics in Huntsville were among the first Alabama responders to learn the special risks associated with car accidents involving hybrid and electric vehicles.
Our Montgomery car accident attorneys understand the training was provided by the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, which has the goal of making alternative fuel choices more widely available throughout the state.
While electric and hybrid vehicles may be relatively safe, they may also contain voltages of 400 to 650 volts of power that could be extremely dangerous for both occupants or first responders, depending on the circumstances surrounding the crash.
Late last year, the Society of Automotive Engineers produced a report indicating that tow operators, first responders and occupants in an accident may be exposed to potential electric shock from systems that are damaged or not fully disengaged right away after a wreck. We're going to continue to see injuries related to this as there are more and more alternative fuel vehicles on the road. Hybrid vehicles are now offered by Honda, Ford, Toyota, Lexus and Mercury.
And there is an increasing amount of research that show these quiet vehicles are more likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents. The overall designs of these vehicles may vary slightly, but all use a large battery pack that serves to energize an electric motor - or more than one motor. Most also contain a smaller gasoline engine.
The big concern has to do with the area surrounding the battery and the high-voltage cables that are routed underneath the passenger compartment. The concern is that in a crash, that battery could leak or explode, resulting in the risk of an electrocution hazard if those high-voltage cables are exposed to bare metal, passengers or rescuers.
The SAE has recommended that auto manufacturers install a kill switch for the battery power that would automatically be triggered in the event of a crash. The location of the switch, the group said, should be standardized for safety.
A second recommendation involves the creation of a guide for emergency workers to quickly identify high-voltage component locations, so they can be disabled. And that's what the training in Huntsville recently focused on. The instructor noted it's important for first responders to know what to cut, what not to cut and where to cut it.
Although this particular session did not involve tow truck drivers, the SAE has suggested provided industry-wide training for them on this issue as well to prevent the potential for serious injury.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year held a roundtable discussion of these dangers, and later issued interim guidance for first responders, consumers and tow truck drivers. The NHTSA has recommended that all hybrid and electric car makers produce a standardized disconnect location for all vehicles.
Most auto manufacturers already encase their battery cables in a bright orange sealing, to serve as a warning to anyone who encounters them. However, that color-coding is not a standard federal requirement, so there is no guarantee that all hybrid car makers will use them.
The Electric Driver Transportation Association reported that some 440,000 battery-powered hybrid and electric cars were sold in the U.S. last year, marking a more than 50 percent increase over sales in 2011.