back to article Tesla driver dies after Model S hits tree

The driver of a Tesla Model S electric car has reportedly died in a crash in the Netherlands this morning – and firefighters on the scene were nervous about being electrocuted as they fought the fire. Firefighters were said to be wary of the car's batteries having short-circuited thanks to damage caused by the crash, in which …

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Re: Sulphuric acid is bad on your skin

Well not for nuthin' but my years in the lab at Climategate University, (East Anglia) proved time and again that even the concentrated form of Sulphuric Acid gave me plenty of time to get to the tap to wash it off, and I had terrible eczema at the time which made my skin super-sensitive*. Absent a nearby water supply I suppose you'd be in trouble eventually. Eyes are a whole different class of problem, as is ingestion of course.

I stand by what I said about the relative safety of lead acid batteries, the automotive iteration being engineered and over-engineered to be robust under a welter of adverse conditions that would have a Lithium battery "venting with flame" (actual language from manufacturer's fact sheet). About the only thing you can do to endanger your life while handling one is to short the terminals, then not notice.

Internal shorts are rare with a car-type lead acid battery because under the heavy load a starter motor puts on one the plates actually try and move to touch each other, and so are separated by non-conductive baffles. I used to have a see-through Lucas battery of the type, and it was an education to use and charge it, I can tell you.

* I did get a nasty skin burn off concentrated "nitrating mixture" when the bottle spat at me once in that same lab, but they don't put that stuff in batteries, thank Tesla.

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Re: standard operating procedures

>maybe...

Maybe not. Let them come to you; there's no benefit in appearing desperate. While you wait, continue to hone your chops (for which I owe you an upvote).

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Where's the news here?

Man dies by driving sports car into tree. How many times a week/month/year does this happen? It's not news, just a statistic.

OK, so it was a Tesla. Whoop di do. The driver was already dead by the time the fire brigade got there. This is such a non-story.

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Pint

Re: Where's the news here?

Condolences to the friends and family. Death like this is just awful. Sympathy.

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It's not mentioned if the driver was using Autopilot or not.

If he was, then this is a yet another Tesla Autopilot story of potentially monumental proportions. Like government ordered remote disabling, recall and retrofit, possible fines, likely lawsuits.

If not, then why didn't the crash avoidance systems at least prevent or reduce the crash to survivable impact? Was the tree confused with the sky?

There are tech news worthy issues here.

El Reg needs to follow this.

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Usually it's trees and Mustangs. When the sound of a 302 revving up is heard, the trees begin quivering. Within a minute, one of them will have a Mustang wrapped around it.

This was a long standing joke. Then a coworker crashed his "5.0" (sic, 4.9L) Mustang backwards into a tree. Exactly in accordance with the stereotype. The huge tree, starting from the rear bumper, was mere inches from the front seats. He survived. I think that the tree was okay too.

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Thumb Up

You don't just drive a Tesla Model S. Oh no, you pay to be Tesla's crash test dummy.

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If this wasn't a Tesla, it wouldn't be a story

Feel sorry for the poor bugger that died, but people die in car crashes every day. The only reason this is a news article is is people think Tesla death = auto-pilot = reason to bash the technology.

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Re: If this wasn't a Tesla, it wouldn't be a story

There was a good amount of news regarding the Vauxhall/GM Ampera when that kept bursting in to flames.

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Re: If this wasn't a Tesla, it wouldn't be a story

If Tesla wasn't built from and valued by so much hype and publicity it wouldn't be a story.

Tesla's ridiculous valuation is $620,000 for each car it sold last year. One of the few thousand cars it has built crashing might well wipe millions off that valuation.

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Re: If this wasn't a Tesla, it wouldn't be a story

Also this road does not look like the sort of road where AutoPilot should be used anyway.

In UK parlance it appears to be a single-carriageway rather than a wider motorway or similar with crash barriers etc. where I imagine AutoPilot's use-case is based.

You would probably not use Cruise Control on such a road in a normal car anyway because of the opposing traffic/trees etc.

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Re: If this wasn't a Tesla, it wouldn't be a story

Bursting into flames is fairly common among automobiles that crash into solid objects at speeds that, in this case, appear likely to be over 100 mi/hr - irrespective of their energy source. This is news notable only because it is a Tesla and the attendant possibility the driver was going at such a speed "no hands."

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Learning curve

It's just a learning curve. Imagine the first firemen dealing with a car crash: gallons of highly flammable petroleum just waiting to burst into flames. As electric cars become more widespread, fire-fighters will learn to handle them.

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TRT
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Re: Learning curve

Maybe the curve was a little too steep...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Learning curve

Same thing when airbags entered cars, the especially side curtains mounted in the A-pillars and or along the edge of the roof. Firemen were hesitant in where to apply cutters, so as to not set off the gas generators (effectively explosives).

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Anonymous Coward

The problem is you can't be sure power is off

This problem is not unique to Tesla, or to other battery-powered vehicles. A similar issue exists for buildings equipped with solar panels: there is no sure way to guarantee that no life-threatening voltage exists within the structure (or a car wreck in this case). See, for example: Rooftop solar panels pose dangers, Ontario firefighters say.

Another big difference from gasoline-powered vehicles is that if you cut off oxygen from a gasoline fire (e.g. by covering fire with foam), or drop the temperature (e.g. with a massive amount of water), the fire stops. It will not re-ignite on its own, and the area becomes reasonably safe to work in.

With a battery fire (electrical or not) all the energy and all ingredients are internal to the source of the fire, so cutting off oxygen is not going to help. Using massive amounts of water might help for a chemical fire, but might also make things worse if a part of the electrical circuitry is still live. It may also cause an explosion if the material in the battery reacts with water.

In that sense, fires in battery-powered vehicles with sufficiently large batteries may need to be treated the same as other self-sustained chemical fires: you let it burn until the fuel/oxidizer is exhausted, while trying to contain the damage to the surrounding structures. This is especially the case if the firefighting crew does not know exactly what is present within the fire, and how it is going to react with their fire-suppression agents.

Which was exactly what the responding crew did in this case.

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Re: The problem is you can't be sure power is off

Adding water to a lithium battery is a very bad move. My EV manual is plastered with warnings telling you not to let untrained personnel near the internal electrics. Since they can deliver 200A at 300V, that's understandable (and I'm sure a Tesla is capable of a significant multiple of the amperage figures).

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Re: The problem is you can't be sure power is off

Using massive amounts of water for a chemical fire is a Bad Idea if that chemical is lithium.

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Re: The problem is you can't be sure power is off

Apparently not according to the First Responder extract in the above post above.

I imagine that if a particular cell is on fire then that's that - and water won't extinguish it or make it burn any more than it is already doing (although you might get an explosion and molten lithium metal flying around but on its own Lithium does not burn hot enough to melt when reacting with water at least in a lab).

See Theodore Gray's website for Sodium doing a similar thing when a large block is dropped in to a lake! Sodium is a row below in the periodic table so will be more spectacular than Lithium.

The gist of the advice seems to be that a significant amount of water will dissipate heat from those remaining cells that are not on fire and presumably still in their normal packaging - which is a good thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The problem is you can't be sure power is off

Not really any significant amount of metallic Li in LiIon cells. If you want that you need to dig into a Li primary battery (ie non-rechargeable).

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Carbon dioxide gas?

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From memory a Lithium fire will strip the oxygen from the carbon, that's why water doesn't work so well either

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Pint

Water = CO2 ?

"...strip the oxygen from the carbon, that's why water doesn't work so well either."

:-)

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A technology dilema

So, the fire fighters are rightly worried about electrocution. What about the occupants - surely that must factor into decisions about their safety too ?

Rough translation seems to be that if you get into a crash in one of these, then the probability of getting out in one piece is lower. Your choices seem to be a fierce electrical fire (with associated gasses) or electrocution when the fire fighters douse the vehicle in water and now an increased decision time whilst waiting for a call to a helpdesk to assess the risk. I hope they didn't get "your call is in a queue" or the obligatory 2 minute dialogue about calls being recorded etc or worse still "our hours of operation are ...."

Obviously any vehicle will by definition have lots of stored energy on board and any fuel will produce bad gasses when burned, but with a Petrol or Diesel car, they can attack the fire quickly to increase your chances of getting out when things go wrong.

It sounds like there is an opportunity here for emergency services training / info packs on the newer cars as obviously electric is not going to go away and power densities will presumably only go up.

This isn't a Tesla only issue, but presumably applies to things like a Prius in the same way.

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Re: A technology dilema

Rough translation seems to be that if you get into a crash in one of these, then the probability of getting out in one piece is lower.

Nope. www.wired.com/2013/08/tesla-model-s-crash-test/

It might be true that if you do get trapped in one of these then there will be a slightly longer delay in getting you out than there would be for a more popular type of car. Or it might not. We can't tell from just this case whether it takes longer to knock down the fire and cut the electrical link or put out a petrol fire. Even if the electrical fire takes longer we still don't know which is more risky because we don't know the difference in their odds of catching fire in the first place.

Worth remembering that on this occasion he was already dead so it was reasonable for the firefighters to delay in order to decide the safest way to deal with it. If he'd been alive but rapidly deteriorating, I would guess they'd have made sure they were stood on something insulating and started cutting anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A technology dilema

"Worth remembering that on this occasion he was already dead"

Just for the record, what evidence did the fireman have to support their assumption that the driver was already dead at the scene? Particularly since there was a point when the driver couldn't be approached due to the fire?

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Re: A technology dilema

At a rough guess, firemen have reasonable experience in determining whether someone is alive. There may be ambiguous cases. There may be very clear cases. They probably didn't get this wrong.

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Re: A technology dilema

I would guess they'd have made sure they were stood on something insulating and started cutting anyway.

That will only help against the case where a hazardous voltage (i.e. 50V or more) exists between the car and the ground. With a crashed car not standing on its four wheels only that's not likely to be the case. The problem, as I expect it was, is that it's very likely that one side of the battery pack is now connected to the car body through damaged isolation, and any wire should be treated as now carrying the full voltage of the pack against the body. With over 300V present you don't want to accidentally touch a frayed wire, and the amperage available will make cutting stuff not the sanest of propositions.

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Re: A technology dilema

Firemen have a lot of experience with car crashes. And the resulting carnage.

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Re: A technology dilema

Particularly since there was a point when the driver couldn't be approached due to the fire?

It wasn't the car that was on fire, several batteries thrown clear of the car from the crash were.

The problem concerning the car itself were the batteries still inside, and the potential hazards they might pose.

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Looking a little deeper

It seems that the car it's self didn't catch fire. What did were the battery modules that had been flung free by the impact.

The second, and unverified fact is that it was a 2013 model without Autopilot fitted.

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Coat

Re: standard operating procedures

No, it's spilt milk. SOP is to not cry over it.

FTFY

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Coat

Re: standard operating procedures

No, it's spilt milk. SOP is to notcry over it.

FTFY

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TRT
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Re: standard operating procedures

What happens when SOPs conflict? I mean, if you're a little girl and you spill milk, what do you do? Obvious if you're a big girl.

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Re: standard operating procedures

You could always say you were crying over the glass/container and get off on a technicality.

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optional

Holland is one of the safest road network in Europe apparently, really this is just another car crashing into a tree killing the driver. This normally would only get mentioned in local press if at all.

I guess as it is a Tesla it makes for a story.

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Bah!

Interesting. I was recently informed that firemen in our neck o't' woods will let any house with solar panels on the roof burn because they are mighty afeared of electrocution. In a conventionally powered house they can cut the breaker at the pole and isolate the home from the grid.

Perhaps a new dialog needs to be opened with said firemen on how best to address the issue of not zapping firemen when they want to squirt water on a blaze when new technologies are deployed?

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Re: Bah!

"Perhaps a new dialog needs to be opened with said firemen on how best to address the issue of not zapping firemen when they want to squirt water on a blaze when new technologies are deployed?"

Just require a cutoff switch before the non-standard input enters the house grid, like how a master breaker works. That way, in the event of a fire, they can just open the cutoff and limit the potential risks.

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Re: Bah!

Just require a cutoff switch before the non-standard input enters the house grid, like how a master breaker works.

PV installations tend to have one already, either separate or as part of the inverter. Problem is, that's not enough. A single decent panel can output 18V at 10A or more; a PV setup tends to have several panels in series ("strings"), with one or more strings feeding the inverter. If you interrupt the string(s) at the inverter (which may be deep inside the house, so there's another problem in actually finding and reaching it, especially when the house is on fire) there can still be 150 to 250V DC present between the leads of each string.

Breakers between every second or third panel and the next in a string might be a solution, but requires a lot of extra cabling to bring each of those points in the circuit down from the roof where the panels are to a point where the fire brigade can see and reach them.

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Megaphone

Sell

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UPS

I keep saying this about UPS too.

Sure, in datacentres and such-like, UPS are well-known and there are procedures but they also have diesel generators and multiple power sources so they are used to it.

But how many offices, schools, etc. have a UPS or two spread over the place?

It doesn't hit home until have a) a flood, b) a short or c) a lightning strike and then you suddenly realise quite how much power you have sitting in batteries secured behind a flat connector and a large-bore high-current cable. Enough to run your servers for an hour? Enough to run all your switches and critical infrastructure?

I made the schools I work in put a sign that says about the UPS on the doors of server rooms. And we have had floods that have destroyed equipment and people just wandered into it and walked around in it with trainers on, while trying to shove it out the door with a metal-handled broom. Nobody thinks of that.

Although a UPS is fairly low-voltage, it's certainly NOT low-current, or low-capacity, and they are generally on the bottoms of racks or server setups because of their weight. I wouldn't want a UPS battery to discharge through me in an incident, and I can quite believe they could start fires given half a chance, even with over-current protection, etc. it only takes a drop of water, short or a damaged piece of equipment to create a spark that could kill you - directly or indirectly.

Just in the room I'm in at the moment, there's enough battery power to power 2.5KW for several hours. That's gonna hurt if it goes through your shoes.

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Re: UPS

Why would it go through your shoes if it can go through the water instead?

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Vic
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Re: UPS

Although a UPS is fairly low-voltage, it's certainly NOT low-current

It is if you put that low voltage across a high resistance; Ohm's Law dictates the current.

If you've got <50V batteries, there really isn't going to be a problem touching a conductor at battery voltage. It might be a little uncomfortable, but it isn't dangerous.

This is why film scenes of torture with a car battery are so ridiculous - you can plug yourself into a car battery without even feeling it[1]. The current flowing is very small if the resistance is high. It's when the resistance is low - such as putting a bicycle spoke across the terminals - that you get a high current flow and lots of energy delivered.

Vic.

[1] Certain sensitive areas excepted, of course; I imagine most of us did the "lick a 9V battery" trick as kids. That would be really quite dangerous with a car battery...

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Re: UPS

I'd like to disagree with you here. I understand Ohm's law.

A car battery - which is what a UPS is, tied to an inverter - is 12v 400A or more. I guarantee you that you don't want that discharging through you in any way.

Being DC, it also provides a handy method to clamp your muscle to whatever it was that you grabbed and not let go. AC will cause your muscles to spasm, DC won't, you'll just clamp on.

There's a reason that you don't stand between cars that are being jumpstarted or allow them to touch (and it's nothing to do with hydrogen discharge). Just the tiniest of voltage differences between them - with the right resistance - will send the shock through you and you won't be able to do much about stopping it while it does.

Additionally, have you ever seen a battery like that short? They are quite spectacular.

My father worked in truck fleet repair for several major breweries (basically every truck delivering beer in London at one point or another). Ask him why he keeps a 2x4 handy and tells people when he's working on a faulty or shorted lorry battery (which may be 24V but that just means it's only twice as deadly).

Sure, it's rare. It's unusual. Because most batteries aren't subjected to those kinds of things. The ones that are tend not to live very long. It doesn't mean you want to stick your trainers on and wade through a centimetre of floodwater that has a positive terminal sitting in it. Guess what happens when things like skin get wet? Their resistance plummets. And though the water might boil off your skin eventually that won't be any comfort to you while it's happening. The reason 9v hurts your tongue is because of the wetness, not the sensitivity. Short of biting your tongue, it's hard to hurt it even when extricating food at high pressure from a broken tooth.

And deadly current can be as low as 100mA if it goes from limb to limb. Like, say, reaching for the off-switch while your trainers are wet in the puddle that the UPS is sitting in (perfect ground).

Rare, yes. But not something to be ignored. It'll hurt, at minimum. On clamp your hand onto the switch so powerfully you can't move it or shout for help. Guess what the 2x4 and a nearby friend is for.

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Re: UPS

I think if you could lick both terminals on most car batteries, you'd be in another industry!

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Vic
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Re: UPS

I understand Ohm's law.

You quite clearly don't.

A car battery - which is what a UPS is, tied to an inverter - is 12v 400A or more

A car battery is 12V. The current supplied depends on the resistance across it. A human is of sufficiently high resistance that that current is insignificant.

Additionally, have you ever seen a battery like that short? They are quite spectacular.

We're not talking about a short - we're talking about a high resistance human being across the terminals. The current is almost immeasurably small.

My father worked in truck fleet repair for several major breweries

Well then, you go and ask him if he's ever put a finger on each terminal of the battery. It would amaze me if he has not.I've done it many, many times and it has no effect whatsoever.

And deadly current can be as low as 100mA if it goes from limb to limb

100mA across the chest will likely kill you. But putting 12V across your arms will not drive 100mA through you. That's Ohm's Lax - V=IR. To get 100mA off a 12V battery would require R=120ohm. That's quite a few orders of magnitude different to a human.

But not something to be ignored

From 12V? Yes, something to be completely ignored. If you don't believe me, try it for yourself. If you don't have the spuds for that, sort out the transport and I will come and do it for you. If you think you can get electrocuted from a 12V battery, you do not understand simple electrics.

Guess what the 2x4 and a nearby friend is for.

Pushing a leaking lead-acid battery out of the way, I should imagine. It certainly has nothing to do with 12V electrics.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: UPS

"I wouldn't want a UPS battery to discharge through me in an incident..."

Don't many UPS units carry ground-fault circuit interrupters? That way if it does get flooded and short to ground, it'll shut off?

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Re: UPS

Since I had the appropriate bits in front of me, I just measured the current that flows when 12V is applied across my wet finger tips, hand to hand. It was less than 100 microamps.

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Re: UPS

"A car battery is 12V. The current supplied depends on the resistance across it. A human is of sufficiently high resistance that that current is insignificant."

Maybe you guys are at cross purposes to some degree. Yes, 12V isn't going to let any great amount of electricity flow through a human. However, the current available to a conductor placed across the terminals depends on the total resistance in the circuit. That includes the internal resistance of the battery itself and the internal resistance of a car battery is low. That's why shorts of car batteries can deliver a large amount of energy in the form of dangerous amounts of heat. Forget electric shock - you don't want to beholding the spanner that bridges the terminal.

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FAIL

Re: UPS

A car battery is 12v 400A or more.

Correct.

I guarantee you that you don't want that discharging through you in any way.

The average person's resistance between their fingertips is several tens of kOhms. Now please apply Ohm's Law to calculate the current through a 12kOhm* resistor, with a 12V, or even 24V source.

1mA with 12V, or 2mA in case of a 24V battery.

Which will take even a small 40Ah battery 4000 hours to discharge. I couldn't handle that, but rather because of boredom and getting hungry, not because of that one milliamp

Any actual danger from an UPS is the AC output and other mains circuitry, same as conventional mains.

There has been, AFAIK, one fatality from a 9V battery, when a sailor rammed the probes of his Simpson VOM through the skin on the fingers of his left and right hand, with the current now finding a much lower resistance path through his body's internals, including his heart.

* makes for easy calculation, and is way below the average. My own is several 100kOhm, even when sweaty.

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Re: UPS

Large UPS units (like 3 phase DC gear) actually have the batteries connected in series. They frequently give well over 400VDC - with the insane peak current of 200kg of batteries I half suspect you could hook them up to a subway train and have it move.

I once brushed against a busbar in one while changing batteries... not fun but no lasting damage thanks to the current not finding a good path through me.

Also, even with lower voltages a source that can deliver a high max current can be significantly nastier to work with than a low current one. Even though it won't be able to drive a lethal current through you, if you screw up and cause an arc it will still burn you to a crisp. I'm actually more scared of arc flash than electrocution risk even when working with definitely-fatal line voltage if the feed is fat enough.

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Vic
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Re: UPS

Maybe you guys are at cross purposes to some degree

Sadly not. The contention is that a 12V, low internal resistance battery can drive lethal currents through a human body by touching the terminals. You, I, and pretty much everyone else knows this to be incorrect.

Vic.

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