Once a rare sight, hybrids are now pretty much considered everyday vehicles, and they’ll soon be joined by several others, including plug-in hybrids, extended-range and electric vehicles.
These models all contain large batteries and high-voltage cables, but that shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Not only are they safe to drive, but they pose no more hazard in a crash than a conventional gasoline-powered car.
“There are a number of safeguards built into them to make sure that when you’re driving it, you’re safe,” says Sandy Di Felice, director of external affairs for Toyota Canada.
“Part of what we did, when we launched the Prius back in 2000, was to take an industry-leading position and coordinate with emergency responders to create training protocols that would help train emergency response staff.”
Hybrid safety in a crash is a combination of the safeguards built into the vehicle, and the training and procedures used by emergency response personnel.
Hybrid safety is engineered into the vehicle from its inception. High-voltage cables are routed away from areas where first responders normally work, and they are sheathed in metal casings and colour-coded with bright, standardized colours. They have mechanisms that shut down the power in case of emergency, and the sealed battery contains a gel rather than a liquid to minimize leaks. These safety features protect emergency personnel, technicians who work on the cars, and even vehicle owners who may poke around the car’s inner workings. Di Felice says that it would actually be challenging for someone to overcome the safety features.
Emergency personnel work with automakers to understand how all vehicles are built, what safety and wiring features they contain, and the safest way to dismantle them when necessary.
Even though they may be familiar with the placement of these systems, firefighters on the scene will never simply start cutting into a car when people are trapped inside. Instead, they “peel and peek,” removing trim pieces to ensure that such things as airbag systems, wiring and brake lines are not in the way before they start working. This is done every single time, even if they may have dismantled a similar car in a crash the day before.
Although the hybrid power cables are routed away from areas such as the doors and rocker panels, where dismantling would be most likely, first responders will still look for them.
As all-electric vehicles arrive on the scene, many people will worry needlessly about their power cables in a crash, but as Di Felice points out, most of us drive vehicles containing large tanks of flammable fuel.
“In some respects in how an electric vehicle is configured, you’re probably in a bit more of a safe situation,” she says.