New metals hampering life-saving efforts

A story in the latest issue of Ward’s Automotive Reports indicates that emergency personnel are having more trouble extricating victims from car crashes. The reason? New high-strength that is saving lives but at the same time leaving occupants trapped in vehicles.

car_crash_2.jpgAccording to the article, the Jaws of Life, the tool that so many first responders use to cut away car roofs or doors to remove victims, are unable to cut through the advanced steel alloys that are being used today for car roofs and B-pillars.

The use of the steel has undoubtedbly saved lives, as evidenced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest traffic fatality rates: 1.16 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, and all-time low according to Ward’s. But there is the tradeoff.

“I tell rescuers people are buying a car (today) that essentially has a NASCAR (race car) roll cage built into it,” Ron Moore, battalion chief and training officer for the McKinney, TX, fire department, told Ward’s Drew Winter.

The high-strength and ultra-high strength alloys offer dual purposes for car makers. One, they withstand impacts better, making the cars safer. Two, they are lighter, leading to more fuel efficiency.

“I have seen real-world crashes (where) the vehicles have gone through some significant impact rollover or whatever and the occupants are outside exchanging information with the cops when we pull up. Years ago, they would have been mangled in the vehicle,” Moore said.

There is an option, but it comes with a price tag. A new cutting tool can slice through the steel, but at a cost of $5,000 each, Moore said it’s a cost that many departments just can’t afford.

Moore, along with several other organizations, including State Farm Insurance, is leading a teaching initiative to teach departments around the country how to extricate victims from vehicles. But it’s a learning process.

Sometimes, safety is all that matters.

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