Following tragic electric bus crash and fire, Italian official raises issue of battery safety and fire risks

October 5, 2023
Ben Marquis

Amid the incessant push by governments around the globe to switch from gas-fueled vehicles to all-electric ones, a recent fiery tragedy has led some to seek a pause in that transition.

An all-electric bus transporting tourists in a suburb of Venice, Italy, crashed through a guardrail and plunged off an overpass before subsequently bursting into a flaming inferno after hitting the ground, leaving at least 21 people dead and another 15 wounded, according to the Associated Press.

There is an ongoing investigation into the deadly incident, and one top Italian official believes the vehicle's electric batteries and the potential role they played in the blaze that severely burned some of the dead and injured should be a part of that probe.

"An apocalyptic scene" in Venice

The tragic incident occurred Tuesday evening when an electric bus carrying dozens of sightseeing tourists back to a campsite crashed through a thin metal guardrail and rusty old handrail along an overpass and fell more than 30 feet to the ground below, where the mangled wreckage came to rest on its roof and was quickly engulfed in flames.

Later that night, Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro shared a photo of the still-smoking wrecked vehicle on social media and wrote in the translated post, "A huge tragedy struck our community this evening. I immediately ordered the city to mourn, in memory of the numerous victims who were on the fallen bus. An apocalyptic scene, there are no words."

Investigators looking into bus driver being cause of accident

According to Reuters, other than the Italian bus driver, all of the dead and wounded in the electric vehicle bus crash were foreign tourists primarily from other European nations.

Authorities immediately launched an investigation to determine exactly what occurred, with a substantial focus on the driver and speculation that he may have "fallen ill" or was otherwise responsible, whether deliberately or not, for the bus going off the bridge.

While that is certainly something that must be looked into, and the recovery of video from inside the bus and other data recorded by the vehicle will certainly help in that regard, it is not the only aspect of the crash that must be probed.

Italian minister raises questions about electric vehicle battery safety and fire risks

According to a separate report from the AP, Italian Transport Minister Matteo Salvini suggested that the fiery aftermath of the electric bus crash should be a "cause for reflection" in the ongoing transition from gas-powered to all-electric vehicles.

"It is early to comment,’" the minister said, "But someone told me that electric batteries catch fire more quickly than other power sources. In a moment in when everything must be electric, there is cause for reflection."

To be sure, there is no evidence to suggest that the electric vehicle's batteries caused the crash or caught fire before the wreck occurred, and industry experts were quick to assert that the particular Chinese-manufactured battery in the bus -- which uses a lithium-iron-phosphate chemical mixture to store energy -- is actually less prone to overheat and spontaneously combust than other batteries that utilize nickel-manganese-cobalt oxides.

Yet, if the reportedly safer batteries are short-circuited or breached, such as in a crash, and oxygen is introduced to the volatile chemical mixture, a terrible fire that can severely injure and kill people will still happen, as appears to be evident in the Venice incident.

Minister Salvini will undoubtedly be sharply criticized for having the audacity to even suggest anything that is potentially negative about the forced transition to all-electric vehicles, but he is correct to say this incident serves as a "cause of reflection," and the legitimate queries raised about electric vehicle battery safety and fire risks deserve legitimate answers.

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