With more and more hybrid commercial vehicles out on the road, Eaton Corp. — a leading supplier of hybrid systems — is stepping up its educational efforts with fleets and the general public about the safety features incorporated into the technology.
“The bottom line is this: Hybrid power is as safe as any other power source. It's just different and calls for different training and product support,” said Shane Groner, technical services manager-North America for Roadranger Marketing.
Speaking ahead of the annual TMC meeting in Orlando last month, Groner said all hybrid components — from the batteries themselves to the battery boxes and cables — were selected and specified to provide safety not only for the driver, but also for any technicians that might work on the vehicle, as well as motorists and fire and rescue crews that might be involved with hybrids in a highway accident.
“For example, high-voltage cables are colored orange to be easily identified and are isolated from the chassis and body,” Groner noted. “The cables themselves are thickly insulated. The battery box, which holds two high-voltage lithium ion batteries, is made from a three-piece plastic shell that's inaccessible without the proper tools. The sensors in the hybrid system also continuously scan for voltage leaks and will shut down the hybrid system automatically if it detects a leak.”
Eaton also distributed an emergency response guide to firefighters that details how to deal with hybrid trucks that are involved in accidents, identifies high-voltage components, and explains how to shut them down safely if needed.
For vehicle operators, a loose connection will also shut down the electrical portion of the hybrid truck, and a special inertia switch cuts the power in case an accident occurs. Groner stressed, however, that even in the case of an electrical shutdown, the diesel engine remains operational, allowing the driver to continue operating the truck.
Eaton offers online computer-based training for hybrid system maintenance to technicians, as well as a two-day course that provides hands-on learning. “Dealers must be authorized in safe service and operation of hybrid technology before they put these vehicles into service with customer fleets,” Groner noted. “We link the hybrid truck's VIN [vehicle identification number] to the specific dealer codes to make sure. It's how we are trying to make these vehicles safe for all involved in the process.”