Project: Fire Risks and Prevention in Large Passenger Vehicles

Reference: S111D/VE

Last update: 11/09/2003 10:57:12


This project aimed to provide information on vehicle fires, causes, associated risks and the potential to minimise their effect. The Vehicle Inspectorate receives notification of approximately 70 vehicle fires each year, many of which result from defects, rather than collisions. However, whilst collision fires are rare, evidence shows that they can result in a high numbers of fatalities.


The project examined tests and procedures required by the European Directive 95/28/EC, concerning the flammability of interior materials and reported on its suitability as a domestic standard.


TRL Limited
Crowthorne House, Nine Mile Ride, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG40 3GA
+44 (0)1344 773131

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £104,608.00

Actual start date: 01 August 1997

Actual completion date: 31 March 2000


PR/SE/625/99. Assessment of the Fire Risks in Large Passenger Vehicles (Buses, Coaches and Minibuses) and Recommendations for Countermeasures
Author: TRL Ltd
Publication date: 01/03/2000
Source: Contact:

PR/SE/073/00. Summary Report of the Fire Risks in Large Passenger Vehicles and Recommendations for Countermeasures
Author: TRL Ltd
Publication date: 01/03/2000
Source: Contact:

Summary of results

  1. The incidence of fire in large passenger vehicles is low and there is a common view, between industry and the Government, that the most effective solution was passenger evacuation rather than attempting to extinguish the fire. There has been little incentive, therefore, to develop and fit systems designed to protect against fire by vehicle manufacturers. Reviews of experimental research, however, showed that escape times from buses and coaches in some circumstances, for example when the bus was on its side, were somewhat longer than the time taken for the fire to spread and become harmful. Smoke generation in the passenger compartment was found to be particularly rapid and caused breathing problems.

    It was found that whilst fires were most likely to start in the engine compartment, the seat material was the most flammable component and the most likely to cause the fire to spread. Compartmentalisation of the engine bay was thought to be the best way to reduce the risk of the fire reaching the passenger area. This could be achieved with the use of intumescent sealing materials and better protection and routing of cables and fuel lines.

    The examination of the performance of fire extinguishers showed that powder extinguishers should not be used in the passenger compartment because the large quantity of particles emitted can cause breathing difficulties for passengers whilst evacuating the vehicle. Water based systems work well in the passenger compartment but are not as effective as powder systems in extinguishing engine fires. Automatic systems were found to be ideal for engine compartments but were not suitable for the passenger compartment because there is no control over the extent and direction of the spray. Conversely, manual systems were judged to be effective only if the operating staff were trained in their use.