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NHTSA releases interim guidance following Volt investigation

On January 20, 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a statement concluding its safety defect investigation into the post-crash fire risk of Chevy Volts. The statement said in part, "Opened on November 25, the agency’s investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts."
"NHTSA remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle," it said in its statement. "NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate , fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components—and the innovative nature of this emerging technology—led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents."
"NHTSA has developed interim guidance—with the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Department of Energy, and others—to increase awareness and identify appropriate safety measures for these groups. The agency expects this guidance will help inform the ongoing work by NFPA, DOE, and vehicle manufacturers to educate the emergency response community, law enforcement officers, and others about electric vehicles."

The interim guidance is directed towards:

The guidance also contains several considerations for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles equipped with high voltage (HV) batteries:

In the event of damage to or fire involving an Electric (EV) or Hybrid-Electric Vehicle (HEV):  

  • always assume the High Voltage (HV) battery and associated components are energized and fully charged.
  • exposed electrical components, wires or HV batteries present a potential HV shock hazard.
  • venting / Off-gassing HV battery vapors are potentially toxic and flammable.
  • physical damage to the vehicle or HV battery may result in an immediate or delayed release of toxic and/or flammable gases and an immediate or delayed fire.

NFPA provided assistance and expertise to NHTSA as it developed its interim guidance. Our input was based on our experience in developing the Electric Vehicle Safety Training program and our extensive knowledge in providing guidance to first responders on various hazardous materials and response.

NFPA, through a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, developed a safety training program to help first responders prepare for the growing number of electric vehicles on the road in the United States. The training is based on extensive research and findings from the Fire Protection Research Foundation and others including focus groups with the fire service throughout the country.

    NFPA training contains best practices based on the latest information for how first responders should deal with crashes involving electric and hybrid-electric cars.

    As with any new technology, information continues to be learned. NFPA will continually update its  training to reflect any new information that has been learned from the NHTSA work and any other information that becomes available.

    For additional information on the Volt investigation and others, visit www.SaferCar.gov.