These days, unless you’re an ardent fan of hybrid or electric cars, it can be pretty hard to tell them apart from their gasoline equivalents.
For the average motorist it isn’t an issue, but for first responders attending the scene of an accident, it’s important to know what a crashed car is powered by.
Which is why the state of Massachusetts is becoming the second state in the U.S. (after Hawaii) to fit electric and hybrid cars with special license plates designed to warn recuse crews that they’re dealing with an electric or hybrid car.
The new license plates were introduced after the National Fire Protection Association recommended them as an additional precautionary measure to protect emergency workers.
“You want to make sure that it’s completely disabled,” Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources told Boston.com. “You want to make sure any issues relative to electric shock are addressed.”
In the past, various states have employed different measures to protect fire-crews and first responders from mishandling electric and hybrid car crashes, ranging from specific training courses to smartphone electric and hybrid car identification applications.
It is hoped that Massachusetts’ approach will be easier to implement in the field, since first responders will only have to look for one of two different license plate designs.
It’s likely that some advocates will argue that the new plates only further alienate the public from hybrid and electric cars.
After all, gasoline cars are far more likely to burst into flames in an accident than a hybrid or electric car, both of which have sophisticated interconnection systems designed to make the car’s high-voltage battery pack safe in a crash.
But with high-voltage cabling often hidden behind panels and under floors, safety workers need to ensure the car’s battery pack is safe before using cutting machinery to rescue occupants.
By offering a visual prompt, Massachusetts hopes both car victims and rescuers remain safe at all times.
Massachusetts has already produced 17,600 of the specialized plates, which are available at Registry of Motor Vehicles offices statewide.
For new car owners, the plates will cost the same as any other regular plate, although owners of existing electric or hybrid cars can swap their plates free of charge for the official electric/hybrid plate for a $20 fee.
[UPDATE: We had some polite correspondence with the nice folks at the Massachusetts DMV, and just to be clear: New owners of hybrid and electric cars can get the new plates at no additional fee, but current owners who want to swap in old plates for new ones will pay a $20 fee.]