Lauren Hansen 757-925-1660

June 23, 2010

Mechanical failure and malfunction the cause

Suffolk, Va. - Just yesterday, Facebook and Twitter entries like this were posted all over town: Vehicle fire causing backup on I-564, near gate 3.  Traffic is backed up through the Runway Terminal to Terminal Boulevard. Expect delays if you're headed in that direction.

At times, and depending on the location, this type of congestion can be the beginning of a very long day at the Virginia Department of Transportation Hampton Roads Transportation Operations Center (HRTOC).  And, vehicle fires are just one of the issues they will be dealing with during these hot days of summer.

Earlier this month, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a paper, US Vehicle Fire Trends and Patterns, which addressed the issue of vehicle fires on our area roadways, their causes and costs.

According to the paper, there is nationally an average of 287,000 vehicle fires per year. These fires caused an average of 480 civilian deaths, 1,525 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage annually.  

Bringing it closer to home, the HRTOC responds to an average of 15 vehicles fires per month.  Although there is no direct correlation between warmer weather and vehicle fires, the impact is greater because of the increased number of vehicles on the roadway due to tourism.

Some form of mechanical failure or malfunction, such as a leak or break, backfires, or
worn-out parts, contributed to 49% of the highway vehicle fires; about two-thirds (64%) of those began in the engine, running gear, or wheel area.  Most injuries are because motorists try to extinguish the fire themselves.

Although vehicle fires cannot be predicted, they can be avoided by keeping vehicles in good operating condition.  Regular annual inspections and being alert to leaking fluids and unusual sounds in the engine – and having your vehicles serviced immediately - greatly reduces the likelihood that you will become a victim of a vehicle fire.

If a fire occurs:
• Stop –
If possible, pull to the side of the road and turn off the ignition. Pulling to the side makes it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely. Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline. Put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake; you don’t want the vehicle to move after you leave it. Keep the hood closed because more oxygen can make the fire larger.

• Get Out – Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle. Then move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also from other vehicles moving in the area.

• Call for Help – Call 9-1-1 or the emergency number for your local fire department. Firefighters are specially trained to combat vehicle fires. Never return to the vehicle to attempt to fight the fire yourself. Vehicle fires can be tricky, even for firefighters.

For more information on the NFPA study, visit:

For current traffic and travel information visit, call 511 or the Traffic Information Line at 757-361-3016 or listen to Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) 610 AM.

511 data feeds for the Hampton Roads region are also available on Twitter @511hamptonroads. Visit for more information

Information in VDOT news releases was accurate at the time the release was published. For the most current information about projects or programs, please visit the project or program Web pages. You may find those by searching by keyword in the search Virginia DOT box above.

Page last modified: Oct. 17, 2012