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Emergency responders to hybrid, EV crashes at risk, says SAE report

Published: 1/2/2013
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The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has come up with a set of guidelines for emergency workers and first responders dealing with crashes involving EVs.

IHS Automotive perspective



A report by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has highlighted the potential dangers of electrocution that exist for first responders on the scene of accidents, involving EVs.


The dangers to responders of electric shocks from unprotected high-voltage batteries in the event of an accident has been an issue since the new generation of EVs began to be rolled out in 2011. Those potentially in danger include emergency service workers, including police and paramedics, and tow truck drivers.


Now that more EVs are on the roads the SAE has come up with a standard of best practices for responders to accidents in order to reduce the risks of potentially serious shocks. However, while the US is ahead of the curve in terms of awareness of this issue, it is likely that some kind of global initiative or standard needs to be created.

The new generation of electric vehicles (EVs) which are powered by high-voltage battery packs, present the danger of potentially fatal electric shocks to first responders in the event of accidents, according to a report by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The report from the SAE has highlighted the risks to emergency service workers such as the police and paramedics, and tow truck drivers from the un-isolated electrical systems and high-voltage battery packs in the event of a high-speed impact collision. As a result, the SAE has come up with a set of recommendations to create a guideline of best practice for emergency workers responding to accidents involving EVs, Todd Mackintosh, chairman of the SAE technical committee said, "As electric vehicles enter the marketplace in greater numbers, it's an appropriate time to recognize best practices that facilitate a safe response when these vehicles are in an accident."

As a result the Hybrid Technical Committee of SAE International has completed technical standard "J2990-Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice," which offers recommended practices for emergency personnel responding to incidents involving hybrids or electric vehicles (EVs), according to a press release. The US safety agency National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) participated in discussions and raised concerns over post-accident response. As part of its recommendations the SAE The committee has made recommendations for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and come with guidelines for emergency personnel, and first and second responders. It has recommended a procedure for OEM vehicle badging placed at standardised or fixed locations on the exterior and or interior of the vehicle with critical information such as high-voltage systems. This guide would help first responders to quickly identify the powertrain type and determine if it contains high-voltage electrical systems. The committee has also recommended that OEMs follow a common standard for disabling high-voltage circuits. It has suggested that OEMs provide at least two methods of initiating the disconnection and isolations of the high voltage systems from the vehicle. Another recommendation would create a guide for emergency workers, something Mackintosh called a "cheat sheet for first responders", which would quickly identify the location of high-voltage components allowing them to be disabled. Tow truck drivers also need better information and training on how to handle hybrids and EVs safely in the event of breakdowns or accidents. The committee has also come up with a quick reference guide to help emergency personnel identify the location of high-voltage components, high-strength steel and high-voltage and supplemental restraint system disabling procedures to ensure the safest response methods for both themselves and vehicle occupants. Besides, the committee recommends OEM guidelines for the creation of second responder safety instructions for the inspection and handling of damaged or inoperable hybrid or electric vehicles, with a focus on the high-voltage systems.

Separately, the US Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded a grant of nearly USD1 million to the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) at West Virginia University for a programme to educate first responders on the best ways to handle accidents involving alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles.

Outlook and implications

As the presence of hybrids and EVs increases on roads and highways, emergency responders will need to be increasingly aware of the proper procedures for responding to accidents and emergency situations. Such alternate-powertrain vehicles are equipped with high-voltage battery packs and electrical systems that theoretically, in a worst-case scenario, have the potential to cause an electric shock in the event of a serious accident. All OEMs currently involved in manufacturing EVs, such as Renault-Nissan, Daimler and PSA have done all they can to make their EVS as safe as possible in the event of an accident, for both vehicle occupants and emergency responders. The models are rigorously crash tested and much work is done to ensure that battery packs and individual cells are protected in the event of an accident. However, it is also possible that real-world use could result in the type of accident that could compromise cell protection and electrical system isolation. As a result this document on recommended best practice for first responders is a necessary tool for both emergency services and OEMs. This is especially the case in the US, where the possibility of legal action against the OEM in question would be high in the event of a responder being injured, or even killed, in the event of an electric shock resulting from an EV accident. While the US authorities appear to be ahead of the curve with implementing this training and best practice recommendation, what is likely to be required is a global concerted and co-ordinated training programme to educate first responders to implement the practices covered in the "J2990-Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice". This may be something that the OEMs and local or national governments may eventually collaborate on.

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