Dealing with hybrid vehicles in accidents

Published:  17 November, 2015

In the Netherlands there are currently an estimated 200,000 vehicles fitted with electric propulsion, accounting for over 2% of the total number of vehicles on the roads – so what can responders do to learn the risks? Richard Mildenberg, Falck Risc, outlines the Dutch approach.

The introduction of hybrid cars in the Netherlands started in 1999 and peaked around 2004-2005. Although the hybrid and electric vehicles (HEVs) only represent a small part of total vehicles, we still need to know how to deal with emergencies involving them. Voltages in the electrical propulsion system can reach up to 600V – and this may become even higher in the future – so safety measures for dealing with HEVs when they are involved in an accident is not only relevant to emergency services but also to salvage companies and car dismantlers.

ARN is responsible for achieving a recycling target for end-of-life-vehicles of 95% and has been following the development of hybrid and electric vehicles closely. To be able to safely deal with damaged HEVs, professionals need to be trained. So in 2011, ARN developed a training scheme for car dismantlers. The main goal was to educate them in some of the unique features and risks associated with the new propulsion technologies.

Falck Risc has specialised in the response to road traffic accidents since 2010 when it acquired Systematic Approach to Vital Emergency Response (SAVER). This provided a practical, systematic method to help multidisciplinary rescuers to deal with accidents where people are trapped or seriously injured. And close cooperation between Falck Risc and ARN then led to the development of a specialised training scheme for dealing with hybrid and electric vehicle accidents.

One partner’s technical knowledge regarding safety features of hybrid and electric vehicles and the other partner’s hands-on experience in dealing with severely damaged HEVs provided an excellent foundation for this partnership. Although every car is different and the placement of the high-voltage (HV) components is not prescribed by regulation, certain safety features are common on every car. Perhaps the most important standard feature is the use of the colour orange for all HV cables as this is a strong visual aid and, consequently, it is regulated. The second very important safety feature is the direct link of the 12V system of the car with the HV system. As soon as the 12V system is deactivated, by removing the key from the ignition or the cable from the 12V battery, the HV system becomes inactive.

Vehicles are also equipped with all sorts of sensors that register high deceleration, high velocity impact, presence of water in the battery, short circuit of the HV system with the bodywork etc. When any of these sensors register an abnormal situation, the HV system responds accordingly and, if necessary, is deactivated.

The possibility of a battery or a vehicle fire are also part of the training as it is important to be aware of the dangers posed by a burning Li-ion battery. Widely-used Li-ion batteries will produce hydrogen gas and hydrogen fluoride. Hydrogen gas is highly combustible and hydrogen fluoride is a very poisonous gas which can form a very strong, corrosive acid when it dissolves in water.

There is a debate on the most effective way to extinguish a burning Li-ion battery but in practice it remains the use of copious amounts of water. This cools the battery which reduces gas formation and it also absorbs the hydrogen fluoride, stopping the dangerous gas escaping. Of course, this produces the acid too and so large volumes of water are needed to dilute it.

Thanks to organisations like ARN, it is understood that damaged HEVs or those on fire need special attention from the emergency responder. To make sure that the emergency responders are better prepared for incidents with HEVs the knowledge of ARN and the 20 years’ experience of road and traffic accidents from SAVER are integrated in SAVER training modules and lectures.


  • Operation Florian

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