Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

Help for First Responders on the Fourth

by Roger Lanctot | Jul 03, 2016

It is fitting and unfortunate that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chose the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend to release figures showing a 7.7% increase in highway fatalities in 2015.  It was fitting, because Fridays are the usual repository for bad news.  It was unfortunate, because NHTSA missed the chance to call attention to the fact that the Fourth of July is the single deadliest day for driving in the U.S.

The projected increase for 2015 reported by NHTSA - an estimate - highlighted increases in fatalities in all categories but highlighted particularly large increases in fatalities for motorcyclists (9%), pedestrians (13%) and from crashes involving young drivers  (13%).  The overall increase in fatalities exceeded the increase in miles driven producing a higher fatality rate per 100M miles traveled (1.12 vs. 1.08 in 2014).


NHTSA's administrator had no solid explanation for the increase nor any specific plan for bringing the rate and number of fatalities back down to 2014 levels or lower.  Observers have attributed the increase to low gasoline prices and the rebounding economy along with driver distraction. 

It is worth noting that the National Safety Council has identified as many as 2,000 additional fatalities annually that NHTSA has excluded from its reporting based on definitions in its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).  More details can be found here:

Earlier in the week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a safety rating and research organization funded by the insurance industry, released its own figures showing that the 4th of July has produced more fatalities on average over the past five years than any other day:


It is in this context that I write these words to call attention to the needs of first responders at crash scenes.  While you may be making plans to enjoy your 4th of July fireworks something you may not be considering is the crash risk you face on this holiday and the pyrotechnics a car is capable of producing after a crash.

No one wants to think about the risk of a crash, but if you are a first responder to such terrible events you face risks and challenges that include identifying the status and identity of crash victims and avoiding hazards posed by modern vehicles including undeployed airbags that might explode during the extrication of crash victims.  Airbags deploy at 400+ miles per hour, posing a risk to the rescuer and potentially trapped drivers and passengers.

There are also batteries, high-voltage wiring, fuel lines, control pistons, seatbelt pretensioners and structural obstacles.   All of these hazards must be located, identified and neutralized to safety extricate a crash victim.

A Kickstarter campaign is currently being run by David and Paul Smart to help bring to market their Rescue Reliance handheld device, app and database intended to aggregate individual vehicle data to allow first responders to quickly locate potentially hazardous vehicle systems by car model thereby saving precious moments at crash scenes.  Car makers should be supporting David and Paul but you can do yourself and all future crash victims and first responders a favor if you were to support their campaign here:

In addition to the need for a database and tool like the Rescue Reliance, first responders also need a better means to identify crash victims in order to contact family members in the event of a fatality or loss of consciousness.  First responders, most notably the police but also emergency medical technicians, lose valuable minutes trying to determine the identity and medical history of crash victims.  (Even OnStar will be no help to you if you are not conscious to give your permission to the OnStar operator to release your emergency contact information.)

California is currently considering legislation which, if enacted, will create a process whereby emergency contact info will be gathered at the point of sale by dealers and entered into the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database.  Car makers and dealers have an interest and a responsibility to see this legislation pass on behalf of their consumer customers.

Enjoy the Fourth of July.  Drive carefully.  Support Rescue Reliance and California's emergency contact collection legislation.

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