First Responders Beware when Approaching Electrics and Hybrids


Electric cars, as well as hybrids, are very different from how conventional cars are built and operate. Thus, as more and more of these vehicles are introduced into the market and are used on the roadways, the higher the possibility of having an accident that may need emergency team assistance.

In many areas in the United States and in Europe, specialized training is now being undertaken by police, fire and emergency service personnel in dealing with high voltage systems for crashed electric and hybrid vehicles. The next stumbling block would be differentiating conventional from alternative vehicles when they are in a road mishap and their passengers need immediate attention.

One of the ways to assist first responders is the SAE International suggestion that electric and hybrid vehicles should have large stickers to inform the many of their electric fuel design. These would be inch high letters or badges on both sides and the rear of the vehicle to help first responders to identify and warn of their electrically charged nature. Another way would be to place lettering at the dashboard area, so that emergency personnel would see through the windshield.

This though, would not be a problem for high profile vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. This can help tremendously in differentiating an electric from a conventional for a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, as there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

These recommendations are enumerated in SAE’s report entitled Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice. The report provides references as to electrics and hybrids, as well as guidance for tow truck operators and other post accident handlers to avoid further mishaps and injuries.

According to Todd Mackintosh, Chairman of the SAE Technical Committee, “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.” He added that a ‘cheat sheet for first responders’ would be most helpful, not just in terms of safety of the passengers in the vehicle, but most especially for those first responders.

One of the more adamant recommendations is a ‘kill switch’ mechanism that would turn off battery power in the event of an accident. It also recommends standardization of the location of these switches in order to have easy access in times of emergencies.

The electric carmakers themselves are installing safety features. The Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is in an all steel case, designing it to sense a crash and disable its electrical charge. Ford for its part, has published ‘Electric Badges’ which are clearly marked logos on the doors and trunk lid to warn of possible electric shock. Cables are wrapped in orange high voltage warning sleeves under the hood of the vehicle.  GM’s Chevy Volt has helped create training modules for first responders.