The litigation involving post-collision fuel-fed fires usually involves passenger cars. However, heavy truck crashworthiness litigation, including post-collision fuel-fed fires, doesn’t receive nearly the attention the issue deserves. Heavy truck operators are entitled to the same safety benefits that passenger car manufacturers are required to extend to their customers. In the past, much attention has been focused on the location of fuel tanks in passenger cars.
At times auto manufacturers have placed fuel tanks outside the frame rails as in the case of the side-saddle gas tanks of the GM pickup trucks. At other times fuel tanks have been placed too far rearward in passenger cars, as in the example of the Ford Pinto. As with cars, failure to properly design a fuel system in heavy trucks for the inevitability of wrecks places passengers and operators at severe risk of injury or death.
When it comes to heavy trucks, the fuel tanks needed are often extremely large and manufacturers argue that it is not feasible to place the tanks within the vehicle frame rails. Therefore, nearly every heavy truck has large fuel tanks strapped to the side of the vehicle readily exposed to impacts by passenger cars, trucks and other heavy trucks. As a result, fuel spillage in heavy truck wrecks is not only likely but probable. Since heavy truck manufacturers are resistant to moving fuel tanks from their exposed location, an alternative is to reduce the likely sources of ignition in the event of a collision.
In most cases, heavy truck manufacturers place the battery box within inches of the fuel tank or have battery cables running over or on the fuel tanks. In the event of a crash, such close proximity of the battery to the fuel tank increases the likelihood that when a fuel spill occurs there will also be an ignition source in the battery compartment. The major three elements needed to create a fire are air, fuel and an ignition source. Clearly, if you remove one of these elements, the likelihood of a post-collision fuel-fed fire is substantially reduced.
An alternative design to help reduce the likelihood of a post-collision fuel-fed fire in a heavy truck is to move the battery box between the frame rails along with all associated cables attached to the battery box. This relocation will substantially reduce the opportunity for damage to occur to the battery box or its associated cables thereby reducing the likelihood of an ignition source that could spark a post-collision fuel-fed fire in a heavy truck.
Moving the battery boxes to a position inside the frame rails is not a new or novel approach but is one that is rarely followed by heavy truck manufacturers. In fact, Freightliner Corporation included this alternative design in trucks at least as early as 1996. However, if heavy truck manufacturers had conducted a proper risk/hazard analysis this alternative design concept could have been employed much earlier. While relocation of the battery boxes in a heavy truck does not resolve the larger issue related to the size and placement of the external fuel tanks, it does provide a serious opportunity to reduce the likelihood that fuel spillage will be ignited by damage done to the battery boxes. If you want more information on this subject of fuel-fed fires contact Ben Baker in our firm at 800-898-2034.
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