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Rules urge bigger hybrid, electric car signage

It’s aimed at protecting firefighters, tow-truck drivers and others responding to crashes.

Hybrid and electric cars need prominent labeling inside or out to warn firefighters and other rescuers of the hazards posed by their high-voltage systems after a serious crash, according to an influential industry panel.

Hybrids or electrics should have inch-high letters or badges on both sides and the rear that are visible to first responders from at least 50 feet, says the committee of experts from SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, who looked at the issue. An alternative, it said, was distinctive lettering on the dashboard that rescuers can easily see through the windows.

The panel issued a variety of other safety recommendations for electrified vehicles, from quick-reference guides for first responders for each electrified model to guidance for tow-truck operators on how to safely handle hybrids and electric cars.

The recommendations will ensure rescuers “will not get electrocuted from high voltage,” says John Frala, a member of the committee and an electric-vehicle repair instructor at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif. “It’s going to save lives.”

Firefighters have worried about risks since the first modern hybrids and electric cars started showing up more than a decade ago. Even though high-voltage lines are often bright orange, the increasing number of electrified models from automakers as they pursue higher fuel economy has led to worries that first responders can’t instantly identify vehicles that present special hazards as they go about cutting them up to extract trapped passengers.


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