Hybrid cars, that use both a gasoline engine and an electric motor, could put rescue workers at risk of serious electrical shocks as they try to rescue people from crashed cars. "If you're walking up to a [hybrid] car that's laid up on its side, the last thing we're looking forward to is getting electrocuted," says volunteer fireman Herbert Scott. "Without a doubt there will be a day where that will happen."
"There are a lot of dangerous things [in hybrids] that we don't normally consider in car accidents," says rescue instructor Todd Hoffman. Normal cars use batteries in the 12 volt range, but hybrid batteries have 10 to 20 times greater voltage. "In a 12-volt vehicle, if a rescuer cuts through a battery cable, the biggest threat he faces is creating a spark that ignites something," says Hoffman. "In a hybrid, if you cut through the wrong thing?a high-voltage cable?it's possible you'll have a dead responder on your hands." Paul Eng writes in abcnews.com that this may not have happened yet because there are so few hybrids on the roads.
Manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota say their hybrids have computer safety systems that are minimize the risk of accidental electrocution. Controls on the Prius automatically shut off the engine and disconnect the power if the airbags deploy or if it senses a sudden deacceleration. Also, the high-voltage parts of hybrids are marked by bright orange colors to alert rescuers. "We have worked very closely with experienced safety crews to identify how best to ensure the safety of everyone involved," says Toyota's Dave Zellers. "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 U.S. related to hybrid or [pure electric vehicle] electrical systems."
But "a big problem with hybrid cars is identification," says Hoffman. "Most have minor or little tags on the vehicle that say 'hybrid.' And if it's been rear-ended, there's no way to tell if it is a hybrid or not."
Scott says, "I don't touch anything until I can look things over. If a driver isn't sitting there frying, I'm going to try and learn everything I can about the car before I go in there."
No one could rescue model and socialite Candy Jones from the clutches of the CIA. Donald Bain tells why on this week's Dreamland!
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