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Updating Your Vehicles Part 2 Educating Your Drivers On the Risks of Hybrid/Electric Car Batteries

- November 23, 2016 by Dan Heinen, ASP (View all posts by Dan)

In my last blog, about updating your vehicles, I discussed considerations to make when buying or leasing new fleet vehicles. For part two of this series, I will be addressing safety hazards associated with an electric or a gas/electric hybrid vehicle.  While energy and cost efficient, these newer type of autos come with unique electrical safety hazards that employers should be aware of.

Electricity and Gasoline Area a Deadly Combination

These vehicles are propelled by either gas/electric motors, or battery operated electric motors. Since batteries store electricity, combining electricity and gasoline can be a bad combination. If batteries are damaged, they may also give off toxic, flammable fumes.

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a general interim guide for electric and hybrid electric vehicles with high voltage batteries for vehicle owners/general public titled, “Interim Guidance for Electric and Hybrid-Electric Vehicles Equipped with High-Voltage Batteries (Vehicle Owner/General Public).”

This interim guide covers the basics and is designed to supplement—NOT replace the information in your owner’s manual. Below are some of the key items the guide references that employers, fleet vehicle managers and drivers should know:

  • Always assume the battery is fully charged and energized. Keeping this in mind may help prevent and electric shock from the battery’s stored energy.
  • A battery in a flooded, (partial or fully submerged) car may have high voltage and short circuits, which can have fire and shock potential.
  • If calling 911 or other services, let them know an electric or hybrid vehicle is involved. By letting the tow truck driver or emergency responder person know ahead of time it is an electric or hybrid they can plan ahead for potential safety issues.
  • If possible, exit the vehicle out of the roadway and maintain a safe distance from traffic and the vehicle—remember the battery has stored energy that can ignite!

Choosing an electric or electric hybrid may be a good investment for your company, but getting familiar with the vehicle is very important. I recommend against just handing over the keys to a new driver. Adopt safety policies that require new employees be trained to:

  • Learn how to start the vehicle.
  • Read the car’s gauges to know if it’s running on gas or battery.
  •  Know how much of a charge is left in the battery.

Additionally, I recommend that employees follow a set route for all routine driving, or preplan trips to know how far the car can travel before having to be recharged. Knowing exactly the location of charging stations throughout the  driving area is important. Trying to save money on fuel costs may be lost if an employee(s) are stranded with a dead battery or damaged vehicle because they weren’t shown proper operating procedures.

As a separate, but related topic, my next post will focus on how first responders can work safely when a collision involves a hybrid or electric vehicle.