Crash safety ratings are a big selling point – who's going to buy a car with just two stars? In pursuit of salable collision performance, automakers have turned to stronger metals and better construction, and consumers can reap the benefit by choosing from a panoply of highly rated vehicles. A problem arises, however, if that safety design is ever called upon to perform. Lots of vehicles now sport high strength steel in critical areas like roof pillars, and while it certainly helps protect occupants, it could hinder rescue crews. Tools that once made quick work of crashed vehicles are now having trouble shearing through modern cars. Not only that, modern cars have lots of airbags around the cabin, and there are also worries about cutting high-voltage electrical cabling in hybrid or electric vehicles. Rescuers need to know where all the potentially hazardous equipment lies within a vehicle so that they can safely retrieve human cargo without creating a further tragedy.

What was once a simple matter of cutting a roof off to get passengers out can now become a sawblade-eating saga that takes double or triple the time. Taking more time at an accident scene has repercussions that put recovery or even survival at risk by delaying treatment. Automakers are aware of this, and they're working with public safety entities to provide training and information. Schematics and build details of vehicles are being made available to first responders by the non-profit group COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance. The ability to research where and how a car should be taken apart in an emergency could buy injured people critical minutes, so Ford, for instance, is asking for a dialogue with rescue crews and the makers of their tools by offering a look at the construction of the 2009 F-150. Upgrades to rescue tools are also necessary, but the flip side of the harder rescue is that the death rate from passenger car accidents is historically low. So buy that five-star vehicle and try not to hit anything. Thanks for the tip, Juan!

[Source: Houston Chronicle]