As Cars Get Stronger, Jaws Of Life Have To Be Tougher

November 12, 2012

Traffic fatality rates are as low as they've ever been. That's in part because of increasingly high standards set by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and government regulators. More airbags, new seatbelt laws, and crackdowns on drunk driving have all played a role in reducing the number of Americans killed on roadways.

Stronger steel has played a part, too. In fact, according to Detroit News, that metal has been key in helping many automakers earn "good" ratings on the IIHS rollover test, which requires that car roofs be able to support four times a vehicle's weight. The IIHS says that rollovers account for roughly 10,000 deaths in America each year, or about one-third of current fatalities.

There is, however, a downside: that stronger steel makes it much more difficult for rescue personnel to remove victims from damaged vehicles. The Jaws of Life -- an assortment of hydraulic tools that cut, ram, and spread open crushed cars -- are commonplace among fire departments and other emergency response units, but older versions of that equipment have a tough time getting through increasingly strong steel.

And the problem is only going to get worse. Many municipalities are facing budget crises, so funds for rescue equipment upgrades can be hard to come by. Meanwhile, automakers like BMW, Ford, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz are boosting their use of high-strength steel -- not only to make vehicles safer, but also because the new steel is lighter, and lighter steel means lighter vehicles, which means better fuel economy.

Thankfully, theĀ Steel Market Development Institute is offering some help. Although SMDI can't slow the progress of high-strength steel, they can show rescue personnel how to make the most of the tools at their disposal. SMDI is now touring the country, demonstrating the most efficient ways for squads to help remove injured passengers from modern vehicles. You'll find a video of one such demonstration embedded above.

[via John Voelcker]

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