Hybrid and electrified cars may be good for the environment, but they can pose a danger to first responders.

EMTs, police officers, and other rescue workers could be electrocuted if the high-voltage cables in a wrecked vehicle are damaged or exposed.

That's why Rhode Island plans to issue special license plates that identify a vehicle as an electric car or plug-in hybrid.

The bill creating the new plates was signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chaffee last month, according to local newspaper The Valley Breeze.

The plate will have the words "Electric/Hybrid" written on the bottom, where the words "Ocean State" would normally be.

The special plates will be available free of charge upon first registration of an electric car or plug-in hybrid. Current owners switching to the new plates will be charged $21.50, or $31.50 if they want to keep their current plate number.

Rhode Island license plate. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rhode Island license plate. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Officials hope this will quickly alert first responders to the potential danger of electrocution as they determine the best way to extricate occupants from a crash-damaged electric car.

This issue has been known to manufacturers not only since the current generation of plug-in cars debuted roughly four years ago, but since the first hybrid arrived in late 1999.

Both types of vehicles use high voltages to power their electric traction motors.

Just as in hybrid cars, the high-voltage cabling of plug-in electric cars is always bright orange.

Under virtually all circumstances, such cars will shut down its high-voltage system after a crash. Cars with high-voltage electronics have backup manual kill switches as well.

Just before the launch of the Chevrolet Volt, for instance, General Motors began training rescue workers to identify its high-voltage cables and where to find the kill switch.

The company provided specific instructions on how to cut the Volt's body to gain access to the cabin while avoiding contact with the electrical equipment--and other makers do the same.

The Toyota Prius hybrid and the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt electric cars are instantly identifiable, since they have no gasoline-only equivalents. But it can be harder for emergency workers to identify a plug-in hybrid version of a conventional mid-size sedan, especially if the car has been badly wrecked.

Time is always a valuable commodity when responding to a car crash, and Rhode Island's electric-car license plates should help responders know what they're dealing with. Just in case.


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