Magazine article Risk Management

Hybrid Cars Pose Rescue Concerns

Magazine article Risk Management

Hybrid Cars Pose Rescue Concerns

Article excerpt

With gas prices steadily climbing, the fuel-efficiency of hybrid cars has made them more popular than ever. But some emergency response workers are concerned that these gasoline-electric vehicles could be a threat to safe rescues at a serious accident scene. They fear that if they need to use cutting tools to free a trapped victim, they might electrocute themselves if they sever the high-voltage cables that power the vehicle's electric motor.

The concern stems from the fact that while a standard gasoline-powered vehicle has a single 12-voh battery to run the electrical system, hybrid vehicles utilize two batteries--the standard 12-voh version and a high-voltage battery that drives the electric motor. This 200-volt battery boosts the electric motor's available power to as much as 500 volts, which is enough to prove fatal in certain circumstances.

Worst-case scenario pronouncements aside, the actual risk is exaggerated, according to automakers. "We have worked very closely with experienced safety crews to identify how best to ensure the safety of everyone involved," says Dave Zellers, Toyota's vice president of quality and service support. "The fact is that Prius hybrids have been on U.S. roads for five years and we're not aware of any personal injury in the United States related to hybrid or EV electrical systems."

According to Toyota, all high-voltage circuits in a hybrid vehicle are automatically disabled in the event of an accident. In addition, the high voltage components are clearly marked and protected--the high-voltage battery is isolated in a protective case in the rear of the vehicle and the high-voltage cables are located under the car, encased in a bright orange shield to prevent accidental contact. …

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