New technology could reduce traffic fatalities

Nearly 100 lives could be saved during this US holiday season if all vehicles were equipped with automated crash-notification systems, which will soon be on more cars and trucks, according to the American Trauma Society (ATS).

The ATS said that more and more Americans are killed each year in motor vehicles during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

But the ATS also said an analysis indicated that as many as 86 people who died during each of the past four holiday seasons -- and about 838 U.S. residents a year -- could have been saved if their vehicles had been equipped with automated crash-notification systems.

"We've been advocating this for years," said Harry Teter, executive director of ATS, a nonprofit professional society of doctors, nurses and emergency response professionals. "[Automated crash-notification] systems save lives and reduce injuries by providing faster and smarter emergency medical responses when crashes occur. The longer someone remains in a crash without help, the harder it is to save him. This is especially critical in rural areas, where people could be on the side of the road for hours before they are found."

Robert Herta, a spokesman for OnStar Corp., which makes the systems, said that using a combination of satellite and cellular technology, the current crash-notification systems pinpoint the location of a crash and alert an OnStar call center, which then alerts 911 emergency call centers when the air bags are deployed.

The system is currently available on tens of thousands of General Motors, Acura, Audi, Lexus, Mercedes, Subaru and Volvo vehicles in the US, he said.

But a new generation of the system will further reduce response times, instantly giving emergency personnel more information about the crash, Herta said.

Herta said the Advanced Automated Crash Notification (AACN) will detect not only air bag deployments but also rear and side crashes and rollovers. In addition, the new AACN system will provide vital information on crash dynamics, telling rescuers, for example, the severity of an accident and whether it was a head-on or side collision.

"The system is connected via the vehicle's radio," Herta said. "If someone is in a crash and is conscious, he will hear information coming over the radio. The system is also equipped with a microphone so that person can communicate with the call center adviser."

OnStar said General Motors plans to introduce AACN next year on some of its 2004 models.

The ATS findings are based on data from two previous NHTSA studies, the latest in 2001. Last year's research found that 35% to 38% of light-vehicle fatalities occur within 10 minutes of a crash, 43% to 46% within 30 minutes, and 56% to 61% within one hour. The researchers concluded that the average notification time for vehicles equipped with automated crash-notification systems was less than one minute after the crash, while vehicles without such systems had an average notification of 5.6 minutes.

According to the NHTSA, the first 60 minutes of care after a multiple-trauma injury are crucial. Trauma experts often refer to this period as the "golden hour." Experts in the field have determined that during that hour, the likelihood of death increases 1% for every minute lost before emergency care arrives.

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