Keep Your (Vehicle) Cool

Americans have all but stopped buying houses at this writing, and car sales are dismal. What’s the worry? Not only that a healthy economy is better for all of us, but that older cars are dangerous if they’re poorly maintained. The NFPA’s recent report on U.S. vehicle fires said they hit a new low in 2006, but they continue to kill hundreds of people and cause about $1.3 billion in property damage annually.

Fluid leaks, cracked hoses, loose wiring, visible exhaust, and backfires are warning signs that motorists should heed. Only 3 percent of the 250,000 estimated highway vehicle fires in 2006 were caused by collisions or overturns, while about half of such fires result from mechanical failures and another 24 percent from electrical failures or malfunctions.

“Many vehicle fires are preventable, and it’s vital to take steps to reduce your risk of experiencing one,” said John Nielsen, director of the AAA Approved Auto Repair Network.“ Half of highway vehicle fires are caused by a mechanical failure, which highlights the importance of proper vehicle maintenance. Motorists can help avoid vehicle fires by following manufacturers’ maintenance schedules and having a comprehensive inspection of their vehicle at least once a year by a trained, professional technician.”

Collision- or overturn-caused highway vehicle fires declined by 45 percent from 1980 to 2006 and by 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, the report showed. (The term “highway” describes the type of vehicle, not the fire’s location.) These fires are costly, causing 445 civilian deaths, 1,075 civilian injuries, and $982 million in direct property damage last year, and they, too, are largely preventable. But ignoring maintenance issues with your motor vehicle is something else: a conscious decision to live at risk.

“The number of vehicle fires is clearly moving in the right direction, reaching its lowest point in more than 20 years,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications. “This report helps us learn why these fires happen, which types of fires are more likely to kill or injure people, and what people can do to reduce these types of fires even further.”

The “U.S. Vehicle Fire Trends and Patterns” report was issued in August. NFPA and AAA are working together to inform the public about vehicle fires and ways to prevent them. If your vehicle should catch fire, AAA advises you to do three things: stop, get out and move at least 100 feet away, and call for help.

Fire Prevention Week 2008 is Oct. 5-11.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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