Emergency personnel call the first 60 minutes after a motor vehicle accident the “golden hour,” the time in which getting victims to an emergency room can mean the difference between life and death. While auto manufacturers are constantly improving the safety and fuel efficiency of their vehicles, some innovations are making it more difficult for police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to safely save trapped car accident victims.

Potential Dangers in 21-Century Vehicle Technology

Some present day vehicle features hinder an emergency responder’s ability to rescue a victim, but others are truly dangerous. For example, EMTs must be cautious when cutting into high-voltage battery systems in today’s hybrid vehicles due to the high risk of electrocution. The batteries of hybrid vehicles also pose an additional danger to rescuers. They contain lithium-ion or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and must be handled very carefully.

Also, many 21st-century vehicles are equipped with more airbags in more places. Airbags require propellant tanks. If an airbag fails to deploy in a crash, cutting into the tank would be like cutting into an oxygen tank.

Additionally, many car makers today are manufacturing vehicle bodies with high-strength steel. However, stronger steel essentially makes it harder for rescue tools, such as the Jaws of Life, to cut through a vehicle and rescue a trapped victim.

Auto makers are also creating stronger pillars in today’s cars to help reduce roof-crush instances. Similar to a vehicle’s high-strength steel, roofs that could have been easily removed on older models now require tougher tools and knowledge of where the weak spots lie in the design.

Educating Rescuers With New Features

Fortunately, proactive measures are taking place to help rescuers quickly and effectively approach emergency situations and save lives. Industry group Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE), for instance, has commissioned a task force to help create standardized labels for hybrid and electric vehicles as well as reference guides to help EMTs understand the potential dangers specific to a particular vehicle.

Some manufacturers already provide such information to firefighters. General Motors (GM), for example, offers an online electric-vehicle safety course to educate rescuers on the features of GM’s new vehicles and how to handle them after an accident. GM and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) say that over 10,000 first responders have already completed the course.

Automaker Kia is also helping out. They donate vehicles to various fire departments for firefighters to cut, bend and tear apart in training for the real deal.

Consumer safety is paramount. As automotive technologies advance, so does the burden on vehicle manufacturers to properly educate and train first responders in how to safely and efficiently extract crash victims. If a car’s safety technology prevents a safe rescue when there is an accident, that technology is close to worthless.