Electric Cars – Response of Batteries in Crash Testing Triggers NHTSA Investigation of Safety Risks

Posted in Injury Law, Motor Vehicle Accidents

Electric cars are amongst the newest rage these days as we here in the United States and elsewhere seek to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil reserves and try to foster the health of our global environment.  However, consumers must be mindful of some risks which these vehicles may present following a collision which are not customarily experienced with traditional gasoline powered vehicles.  What risk you say?  Fire.

While this issue has not garnered much media attention, there have been reports that a Chevrolet “Volt”, an all electric car, burst into flames which fully consumed the vehicle and several others which were parked alongside it in a storage facility in June of this year.  The particular Volt which caught fire had reportedly been subjected to impact testing approximately 3 weeks earlier during which it was run into a pole.  The cause of the blaze is reported to have been the result of intrusion into one of the vehicle’s batteries, resulting in rupture of a coolant line.   Several months after the fire occurred, follow-up testing was reportedly conducted on the batteries alone in an effort to test their response when subjected to crash forces.  The results reported were disturbing to say the least:  One of the batteries caught fire, and 2 others gave off sparks and/or smoke.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has reportedly opened a defect investigation recently in response to these data, but has not announced any public safety issue.

Documentation on the testing is not readily available at this time.  However,  given the potential gravity of this situation consumers owning electric vehicles, such as the Volt, have cause to be wary.  If you own such a vehicle, you would be wise to have the vehicle, including its batteries, thoroughly inspected following a collision.  Take steps to protect yourselves and your families, just in case this proves to be a situation such as we recently experienced with the Toyota accelerators.  It may not be wise for you to rely on the manufacturers and government entities to realize or timely disclose the full scope of any problem.