Previously, extrication specialists often used cars crashed at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre to hone their life-saving skills. For the first time, it dropped several new Volvos multiple times from a crane, from a height of 30 metres. This approach helped create enough damage to adequately simulate that found in the most extreme crash scenarios. Think single-car accidents at very high speed, or those when a car hits a truck head-on at speed; or accidents whereby a car takes a severe hit from the side.
In such situations, people inside the vehicle are likely to be in a critical condition. Therefore, the priority is to get them out and to a hospital as quickly as possible, using hydraulic rescue tools known in the industry as ‘jaws of life’. Extrication specialists often talk about the ‘golden hour’: it’s vital to release and get a patient to the hospital within one hour after the accident has happened.
‘We have been working closely together with the Swedish rescue services for many years,’ says Håkan Gustafson, a senior investigator with the Volvo Cars Traffic Accident Research Team. ‘Because we have the same goal: to have safer roads for all. Accidents can’t be avoided, so it’s vital there are methods to help save lives when the most severe examples occur.’
All findings from the crashes and the resulting extrication work will be collated in an extensive research report. This will be made available free of use to rescue workers elsewhere, allowing them to benefit from the findings and further develop their life-saving capabilities. Usually, such personnel get their training vehicles from scrapyards, but these cars are often up to two decades old. And in terms of steel strength, safety cage construction and overall durability, there is a vast difference between modern cars and those built 15 to 20 years ago. New Volvos are made from some of the hardest steel found in contemporary vehicles.
This makes it crucial for rescue workers to constantly update their familiarity with newer car models, and review their processes, in order to develop new extrication techniques. In reality, these training sessions can literally mean the difference between life and death, so at the request of the rescue services, Volvo Cars decided to step things up a notch.
‘Normally we only crash cars in the laboratory and this was the first time we dropped them from a crane,’ says Gustafson. ‘We knew we would see extreme deformations after the test and we did this to give the rescue team a real challenge to work with.’
A total of 10 Volvos, of different models, were dropped from the crane several times. Before the drop, Volvo Cars safety engineers made exact calculations about how much pressure and force each car needed to be exposed to, in order to reach the desired level of damage.