Toyota says that the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid vehicle has many safeguards to help ensure safe operation for drivers and protection of emergency response professionals in the event of an accident. An Associated Press article and other reports indicated that emergency workers who cut through the doors of a hybrid vehicle may receive an electric shock.

That information is not correct, says Toyota. The power cables carrying electric current are automatically shut down in the case of an accident. Furthermore, power cables are not located near the doors of the vehicle - they are located well outside of any area likely to be accessed by emergency crews.

"We have worked very closely with experienced safety crews to identify how best to ensure the safety of everyone involved," said Dave Zellers, Toyota vice president of quality and service support. "The fact is that Prius hybrids have been on U.S. roads for five years and we're not aware of any personal injury in the U.S. related to hybrid or EV electrical systems."

The high voltage batteries are contained in an extremely strong protective case located in a portion of the vehicle very unlikely to be penetrated in a collision. Drivetrain management computers continuously monitor all system functions performing hundreds of tests each minute. In the event an abnormal condition is detected, all high voltage circuits are disabled and high voltage is contained inside the protective case.

Further, Toyota maintains that two safety mechanisms are in place that shut off the engine and disconnect high voltage if an airbag is deployed or if there is a sudden deceleration indicative of an accident. High voltage cables and components are heavily insulated, shielded, isolated and the cables are painted bright orange for easy identification. The controller box is a sealed unit and has warning labels.

To reassure emergency response professionals when the Prius was introduced in 2000, Toyota placed advertisements in trade publications and sent letters to industry organizations announcing the availability and dissemination of Emergency Response Guides. Today, all Emergency Response Guides for Toyota's alternative fuel vehicles, including Prius, RAV 4 EV, CNG Camry and Highlander Fuel Cell Hybrid are available at Toyota's technical information web site and Toyota continues to advertise in appropriate professional publications.

"The Toyota Prius and its hybrid technology is truly an advancement in the automotive world and sometimes people are afraid when they are unfamiliar or receive false information," said Zellers. "As consumers recognize the advantages of hybrid-powered vehicles in terms of fuel mileage, cleaner emissions and a normal driving experience, the public as a whole will become very confident in the safety of these vehicles."