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Rescue, Blind Pedestrian Dangers Posed By Hybrids

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, June 08, 2009 12:08 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical
Tags: Hybrids, Prius, Lexus, Toyota, Emergency Rescue Teams, EMTs, Jaw of Life, Automobile Accidents

Hybrids pose a danger to the blind and emergency responders.
Lexus GS 450h Hybrid, 2006 

Hybrids Silent Danger

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IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ Lexus GS 450h Hybrid on display at US Open, 2006/ author: Graffiti by Numbers 

 

As hybrids emerge as the car most likely to beat the rising cost of gasoline, safety proponents say they pose problems for the blind and emergency crews trying to help you following an accident.

Advocates for the blind say that the quiet engine of a Prius is a danger to blind pedestrians who may not hear an approaching car.  Researchers at the University of California-Riverside found that blind subjects could identify an approaching conventional vehicle about 28 feet away, but couldn’t hear a hybrid until it was seven feet away - about one second from impact.  

Safety advocates are pushing for measures that would make hybrids and other electric vehicles easier to hear.   The safety measures aren’t just for the blind. With a quiet engine it’s difficult to know whether a hybrid’s engine is running and the car is in gear, making it possible to lurch forward and run over the unsuspecting.

Danger of Electric Jolt

Emergency responders across the country are increasingly receiving specialized training for work with hybrids.

At Marquette General Hospital in Michigan, where they teach hybrid safety classes for rescue workers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are warned about the 12-volt battery under the hood and another under the back seat that can deliver a 600-volt jolt, enough to cause instantaneous death.

MSNBC reports in the first-response manual for the Nissan Altima Hybrid it says, “Failure to disable the high voltage electrical system before emergency response procedures are performed may result in serious injury or death from electrical shock.” 

Government safety tests offer assurances that high-voltage batteries are sealed and protected from explosion while hybrid engines are packed with sensors that stop the flow of electricity if there is a collision or when side air bags deploy. 

Safety advocates warn that the system works if the sensors have not been damaged. 

How Do You Turn It Off?

Switching off the ignition is the best way to disable a hybrid, but it’s not foolproof.

Power can remain for five minutes to the Prius. The Lexus GS450h can remain powered up for as long as 10 minutes, reports Toyota. 

Disabling power to the 12-volt battery will block power to the bigger and more dangerous battery, but how to do that differs with various vehicles.

Battery cable color is not consistent. Emergency workers will find a battery line in orange, unless it’s a Saturn where some of the cables are blue.  On the Honda, crews must remove the main fuse and cut cables on the 12-volt battery, reports MSNBC. On the Lexus GS450h, remove a yellow fuse, while on the Lexus RX400h it’s a red fuse.

Toyota has developed a guide for EMTs to study for their Lexus, Camry, Prius, Highlander and Rav4 vehicles that have hybrid and alternative fuel engines.

All of this means for the consumer in an accident in a hybrid, rescue crews may need to take extra time to disable the dangers posed by a hybrid before they get to help you.   #


3 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Bob Wilson
Monday, June 08, 2009 2:20 PM EST

June 23, 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a hearing on this subject and the opposition research is available from LINK , search "NHTSA-2008-0108-0020". We found no difference between Prius-pedestrian accident rates and ordinary cars; there are 5 blind on average killed every year out of 4,700 pedestrian deaths; and no blind has been killed by a Prius, yet.

The proposed 'fix' at best, makes a Prius sound just like the vehicles that kill 4,700 pedestrians each year. Noise makers are a placebo that won't address the real problem, pedestrian deaths.

This is a placebo and H.R. 734 and S. 841 are concentrating on "ear wash" instead of addressing effective system that can detect pedestrians and apply the brakes and alert the driver to the potential accidents. We need to protect all 4,700 pedestrian, not just the 5 blind who die each year.

Bob Wilson

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 9:30 AM EST

Thanks for writing Bob-

Without realizing it, we have all come to rely on the sound of an approaching car as much as the sight.

I also hope that emergency responders are being trained pro-actively, that is being made aware of the potential hazards of receiving a jolt - before it happens as opposed to after!

Anonymous User
Posted by Bob Wilson
Thursday, June 11, 2009 8:06 AM EST

Thanks Jane,

Knowledge is the key to effective action and the June 23 record, not just the opposition research, revealed other problems with vehicles 'hiding' in the noise background. Then there is the wide-spread use of iPods, cell-phones and attention to small children in parking lots. We need to look beyond just noise for vehicle safety, which condemns us to continuing the 4,700 annual pedestrian deaths.

BTW, the Prius traction battery is isolated from the case, has three safety relays and is co-located with the rear axle. Isolation from the case means the traction battery voltage is not on the frame of the car. Touching one of the power cables and the frame would be perfectly safe.

The three safety relays are computer controlled and located at each end and in the middle of the battery pack. Powered by the 12 VDC battery, if it is disconnected (or destroyed in the accident,) the relays fall open. The maintenance connector, part of first responder training, also opens the middle of the pack.

The rear axle area is one of the strongest parts of the car. That is why both the battery and fuel tank are located in that area, typically under and behind the rear passenger seats. There is no guarantee about what happens in an accident and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatal Accident Reporting system (FARS) shows there have been 2001-07, 110 fatal accidents in which a Prius has been involved(*). Yet we can find no evidence of a traction battery safety hazard in any of these accidents.

The traction battery is a significant energy source and has to be treated with the same respect we give gasoline. But the vehicle design features, at least for the Prius are impressive and the accident data suggests they have worked.

Bob Wilson

* - We are doing a more extensive, Prius fatal accident analysis, 2001-2007. Send me a PM if you are interested.

Comments for this article are closed.

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