If someone were to tell you that cars are safer today than they were 20 years ago, you’d certainly buy into that. These days cars have all kinds of technologies and features to prevent accidents. There’s stability control, traction control, lane departure warnings, radar cruise control, cameras, hands free cell phone and GPS, anti-lock brakes, precrash countermeasures like tightening seat-belts and applying brakes, the list goes on. But there’s also lots of tech that keeps us safe even if we were to find ourselves in an accident. We have air bags, crumple zones, higher strength steel, all of which have made cars safer to be in whether before or during a crash.
But what about after a crash? What happens after the worst case scenario? Say someone driving a Tesla Model S and gets into an accident. This is a fully electric car with all kinds of wizardry that first responders have never encountered before. Since there’s no engine it’s hard to tell if the thing is even off. It’s modern design uses the strongest metals to keep everyone safe, but the modern technology and metal can be a hazard as well. And so few are on the road it’s unlikely any responder has experience with this vehicle, which is unlike any other.
As it turns out, first responders have not been able to keep up with the rapid changes in technology over the last few years. They arrive on the scene and have to be extra cautious when cutting through new cars. Here’s just some of the hazards they may be running into courtesy of USA Today (via Autoblog):
- Air bags. Cutters or other extraction tools can puncture explosive propellant tanks of any air bags that didn’t inflate in a crash.
- Hybrid batteries. More vehicles have hybrid or electric powerplants, in which it is critical to properly handle high-voltage cables and lithium-ion or nickel-metal-hydride batteries after an accident.
- High-strength steel. Automakers are using higher percentages of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel in car bodies to save on weight and boost gas mileage. It’s much lighter than standard steel but much tougher to shear, bend or tear apart. And in order to meet tougher roof-crush standards, the support pillars are stronger, making them harder to snip.
- Keyless ignitions. Push-button ignitions that don’t use keys often make it difficult to know when the engine is running. The problem is complicated in hybrid and electric cars, which can be fully “on” without an engine running.
This means that first responders have to take more time when rescuing victims, time that can truly mean life and death. The article goes on to note that manufacturers and trade groups are recognizing this and partnering with first responders to make this easier. And the balance of the new safety features against the increased difficulty of extracting victims is likely in favor of better survival rates. But when you hear about how safe a car is in advertising or sales pitches, no one talks about how easy it is to pull your kid out after it’s been flipped on the interstate.
This is something to be aware of not just in cars, but any product or service that claims to improve over the existing version has hidden potential consequences.
- If your new AC unit uses 25% less energy than the old one, that only means if you use it for the exact same length of time. Many are likely to run the air more than they did before.
- One problem I had as a child was eating too many reduced fat Oreos. They weren’t 50% fewer calories but I sure ate them like they were.
- When smooth-top ranges first became popular no one considered what a pain they are to keep clean. Today it’s just an accepted reality.
It’s not always the job of the marketer to make sure the consumer understands these things. Thankfully things like prescription drugs are required to share the consequences. But just like with our newer, “safer” cars, be aware of what context messaging is referencing.