NHTSA Evaluates Risk of Fires in Electric Cars; Develops Safety Training

Electric Vehicle Crash Tests

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted crash tests on the Chevy Volt to determine the risks of post-accident fires in electric vehicles.  There were no reports of real-world crashes that resulted in battery fires, but specific attributes of electric vehicles warranted the test crash investigations.

Battery Fire Risks

All vehicles, gasoline and electric, have some risk of igniting after crashes.  Consumers and first responders need to be aware of special considerations involved with the batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles.  It is estimated that by 2015, there will be one million electric vehicles on the road.

In a statement released on January 20, 2012, NHTSA “concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts” on the Chevy Volt.  However, they stated that precautions need to be taken with all hybrid or electric vehicles.

Firefighters & Vehicle Fires                                  

The NHTSA worked with the Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to create electric vehicle safety training programs for firefighters and first responders.  The training is designed to:

  • Create awareness of unique emergency response needs for electric vehicles
  • Remove concern about inherent safety of electric vehicles and ability to safely respond in emergency situations
  • Reassure public that trained first responders know what to do in emergency situations involving electric vehicles

Accident Investigations

If the crash scene requires an accident evaluation or a Fire & Explosion Investigator will be examining the vehicle, NFPA-921 Guidelines suggest approaching the vehicle as if the high voltage system is energized.  Investigators should be sure that the manual disconnect to the battery pack is in isolation position before starting the inspection.  Voltmeters should also be used to check any wires or suspected components.

Further Information

The Electric Vehicle Safety Training website contains resources from specific vehicle manufacturers about their electric cars.  NHTSA also has a simple guide for owners of electric cars.

Do you have an electric or hybrid vehicle?  Have you educated yourself on what to do in crash situations?  Share your thoughts in the comments.


NFPA’s Electric Vehicle Safety Training http://www.evsafetytraining.org/Resources/NHTSA-Resources.aspx

NHTSA http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/2012/NHTSA+Statement+on+Conclusion+of+Chevy+Volt+Investigation

NFPA 921 Guidelines for Fire & Explosion Investigations

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