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OnStar Sponsors Electric Vehicle Safety Training

Written by Yesenia Salcedo

OnStar and Chevrolet have joined forces with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to provide electric vehicle safety training for first responders to the scene of an accident. Chevrolet and OnStar demonstrated safety techniques on the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Volt, an electric vehicle, at the Fire-Rescue International (FRI) conference in Chicago.

The collaboration with Chevrolet and OnStar stems from an electric vehicle safety training initiative NFPA is developing to support the growing number of electric vehicles in the United States. The NFPA initiative will include a series of electric vehicle emergency response safety programs available to first responders.

This training is not just for fire-rescue. It is for any first responder to an accident involving an electric-powered vehicle—and law enforcement is typically on the scene first. And the training is not just for the Chevrolet Volt. It is for any hybrid-electric or all-electric vehicle.

The training programs will provide first responders with information they need to most effectively deal with emergency situations involving electric vehicle technology.

NFPA will be reaching out to other auto manufacturers in an effort to include vehicle-specific information in training as more electric vehicles enter the marketplace.

The whole purpose of the Volt training clinics is to share specific vehicle knowledge with first responders. The NFPA Electric Vehicle Safety Program covers a lot of information: risk of high voltage shock; new batteries and battery technology; concerns about moving any electric vehicle involved in a crash; and fire extinguishers, because electrical fire now joins gasoline fire as a risk.

In addition to safe extraction locations of interest to fire-rescue (i.e., cut here, don’t cut there), of interest to all first responders are simple things, like the location of the high voltage shutoff.

The collaboration with Chevrolet and OnStar includes the co-development of safety resources, including Web-based training materials, vehicle extrication video and shared resources for instructor-led safety presentations.

At the FRI conference, Chevrolet and OnStar hosted a three-hour training session that included a vehicle extrication demonstration featuring the Volt. Experts highlighted key points for first responders, including locations of high-strength steel and cut points for extrication. The extrication demonstration is on the NFPA Electric Vehicle Safety Training Web site.

NFPA is currently developing training materials and course curriculum for the full safety training program. Trainings will be available in the first quarter of 2011. So far, three such clinics have been held. Look for additional ones in the strongest retail markets for the Volt in San Francisco, Austin, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington DC.

OnStar Stolen Vehicle Slowdown

In September, General Motors hosted a Ride and Drive event at its headquarters in Detroit, Mich. The purpose was to give attendees an overview of the public safety and law enforcement applications from OnStar. OnStar is the subscriber in-vehicle safety and security system installed in most GM vehicles. OnStar’s three-button system offers 24-hour access to trained advisors, a connection to emergency assistance and access to OnStar hands-free calling.

OnStar has offered services for the public safety sector such as Amber Alerts for some time, and has assisted law enforcement with the location and retrieval of stolen vehicles. Of course, this only works if the stolen vehicle is subscribed to the OnStar service at the time of the theft.

Also, OnStar will only attempt to locate a vehicle if it has been confirmed that the subscriber has filed a stolen vehicle or missing person report with the appropriate law enforcement agency, and if the vehicle is officially treated as stolen. In the U.S., the OnStar advisor will ask for the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) number, if available.

At the event, members of the law enforcement media drove a GMC Yukon down the street while the following scenario played out. One of our hosts demonstrated OnStar’s Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. Our host described this slowdown process, during which our “stolen” Yukon was located by OnStar, who then provided the GPS location to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction. The ficticious officer sent to the scene then observed as OnStar flashed the exterior lights of the Yukon. When the officer acknowledged this electronic handshake and indicated conditions were safe, OnStar sent the slowdown signal to the Yukon, disabling the accelerator and slowing the vehicle to an idle speed of 3 to 5 miles per hour.

Because the engine remained running, the power steering and the power brakes were fully operational, as were the anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. Our host explained that law enforcement can use Stolen Vehicle Slowdown as a preemptive measure as well; for example, a stolen vehicle stopped at an intersection with the engine running can receive a slowdown signal and be prevented from accelerating after the stop.

Our host then showed us Remote Ignition Block, a new service that allows OnStar to address the growing number of vehicles being stolen with the vehicle’s ignition key. An OnStar advisor can send a signal to prevent the engine of a stolen vehicle from starting on its next ignition attempt. If the vehicle is parked, officers can go to the location and watch to see if the offender returns to the vehicle. If the offender does return and attempts to escape in the vehicle, the ignition attempt will fail thanks to Remote Ignition Block, preventing a pursuit and enabling the apprehension of the offender.

In the case of our demo, the Yukon accelerator was disabled while we were moving, and the Yukon instantly began to lose speed. Nothing happened when the accelerator was pushed. Eventually, the SUV stopped. When our driver turned off the vehicle to simulate a stop, Remote Ignition Block prevented the vehicle from being restarted.

OnStar, while helpful to its subscribers when they get lost or into an accident, now offers law enforcement this tool in recovering legitimately stolen vehicles—if only for GM vehicles at the moment. But as use spreads among agencies, perhaps other vehicle manufacturers will come up with similar services and features.

Law enforcement members can call (866) 866-5006 to request the location of a stolen OnStar-equipped-and-activated vehicle. OnStar Stolen Vehicle Slowdown is a recipient of the 2010 Edison Award for Best New Product in the technology category.

Yesenia Salcedo is the managing editor of LAW and ORDER magazine. She can be reached at ysalcedo@hendonpub.com.

Published in Law and Order, Feb 2011

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