The percent of road accident fatalities in burning vehicles is increasing, accentuated by materials and technology trends. A study based on data from the USA, UK and Sweden, interviews with medical experts and assessment of accident reports, shows that although the total number of road vehicle accidents is decreasing, the proportion of accidents involving fires is increasing, as is the % of road accident fatalities linked to fire. Newer cars show a similar fire rate to older vehicles. Fire rates are linked to energy absorption. The authors note that modern vehicles have an increasing fire load, as plastics and composites are used to reduce weight, and that safety design means passengers are more likely to survive high-energy absorption crashes (survivable collision energy increases). The authors conclude that vehicle fires remain a significant problem, likely to be accentuated in the future, and that more data is needed on road vehicle fires and on smoke and toxicity of new vehicle materials.
“Post-collision fires in road vehicles between 2002 and 2015”, P. Otxoterena et al., Fire and Materials. 2020;1–9, https://doi.org/10.1002/fam.2862