NTSB says vehicle batteries pose risk for 1 responders

DETROIT (AP) – Electric vehicles first pose safety risks according to guidelines from investigators and manufacturers that they are insufficient to deal with, according to US investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday that there were gaps in industry safety standards and research into high-speed lithium-ion battery fires, particularly high-speed, severe crashes.

The agency, which has no enforcement powers and can only make recommendations, called on manufacturers to write vehicle-specific response guides to fight battery fires and limit chemical thermal runways and governance. Guidelines should also include information on how to safely store vehicles with damaged lithium ion batteries.

The recommendations come at a time when automakers are producing many new electric vehicle models, with many in the industry considering it a inflection point in switching from gasoline power to cleaner electricity.

The agency in its Wednesday report asked firefighters and auto towing associations to inform members about the risk of fire and how to deal with the remaining energy in the battery after the accident, and how to safely tow a vehicle with damaged batteries Be stored.

And it is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to include the availability of emergency response guides when it calculates the five-star vehicle safety score.

NHTSA should build a coalition of ways to de-energize batteries and reduce hazards from thermal runways, a chemical reaction that increases uncontrolled battery temperature and pressure.

The NTSB began an investigation into battery fires following crashes and fires in Lake Forest and Mountain View, California and Foote. Lauderdale, Florida, in 2017 and 2018. It also investigates a non-accident fire in West Hollywood, California. Three batteries supplied after the fire was extinguished.

All four vehicles were built by Tesla, the largest selling electric vehicle manufacturer in the US

“The ‘trapped’ energy that remains in the damaged battery creates electric shock and battery reigns / fire risks,” the agency said.

A fire in Lake Forest in August 2017, a Tesla Model X battery set the vehicle on fire after it left a roadway and crashed into a high-speed residential garage. NTSB engineer and highway investigator Thomas Berth said in an agency video Firefighters poured thousands of gallons of water onto the roof of the vehicle. “They didn’t feel they had to direct the water to the battery compartment under the car to cool the battery and prevent the reaction caused by the fire,” he said.

In an 80-page report, the NTSB wrote that a review of the 36 manufacturers’ emergency response guidelines found that all had ways to reduce the risk of high voltage shock, including ways to disconnect the battery. But none of the guides spoke to limit the risk of energy stored in the battery, such as procedures to ease the regime or where and how to spray water to cool the battery, the agency said.

The NTS has written that one way to deal with damaged batteries is to pull them off the vehicle and bathe in saltwater.

The National Fire Protection Association, which provides training to first responders and tow companies, said it had already addressed most of the NTSB’s recommendations. Andrew Clock, the lead manager of emerging issues, says the group has been training how to extinguish a battery fire, then jack up the vehicles and submerge the battery in water.

The NFPA has trained about 250,000 first responders, but 1.2 million firefighters nationwide, Clock said.

The NHTSA said in a statement that last week it launched a battery safety initiative to address growing concerns about battery-lit electric vehicles and structure fires. The agency said that under this initiative, electricity analysis, fire investigation and electric vehicle accidents would be investigated.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a large automaker trade group, said it would review the recommendations and is working with the Fire Association, NHTSA, Automotive Engineers Society and others to improve safety.

The message was dropped Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla and the National Fire Protection Association.


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