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"...and then there was silence"
April 2, 2012 1:02 AM   Subscribe

"It was at that point that I noticed a smell. It was faint at first, but soon got stronger. I thought it might be the residual smell of an airbag or of hot rubber from skidding tyres. It wasn’t." A short blog post by a UK policeman responding to a car accident.
posted by d. z. wang (115 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by radwolf76 at 1:11 AM on April 2, 2012


Wow.

I just ... wow.

The poor man. Men, I should say.

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posted by Xany at 1:22 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by xdvesper at 1:22 AM on April 2, 2012


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posted by raihan_ at 1:24 AM on April 2, 2012


Well, that was pretty horrific.
posted by Decani at 1:32 AM on April 2, 2012


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This has also made me wonder why circular saws aren't issued to the traffic details in this force.
posted by jaduncan at 1:35 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just really sad. I am generally polite to policemen, I am going to do my best to even be nicer to them.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:39 AM on April 2, 2012


On a side note, it's tragedies like this that make me think back to all the crash testing we do: one of the specs that we test against is a frontal offset crash against a solid object (wall) at 60kmph - not a straight impact, but offset against the center, so the forces are asymmetrical and put the greatest strain against the car's internal structure.

So in this test, ideally, to achieve the maximum 5 star Euro NCAP rating, the door hinges must suffer no damage at all and open freely. The front of the car will be crumpled and crushed as hell, but the damage stops cold at the door hinge. Nearly every car made nowadays by major manufacturers will get their 5 star rating.

I used to work in insurance and the greatest cause of death of young people aged 20-30 would be MVAs (motor vehicle accidents) and I used to reflect that, if you were to spend money on just one thing in life, you'd get a modern and safe car, because that's where you're most likely to be killed or badly hurt.
posted by xdvesper at 2:10 AM on April 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


This reminded me of Episode 1 of Taxicab Confessions, the old HBO series.

My advice: Watch it, but prepare to be disturbed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:14 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by owlrigh at 2:14 AM on April 2, 2012


This has also made me wonder why circular saws aren't issued to the traffic details in this force.

I don't think circular saws would be very effective.
posted by delmoi at 2:24 AM on April 2, 2012


I don't think circular saws would be very effective.

This is an erroneous belief. This is a circular rescue saw, as typically used by fire departments specifically to cut people out of cars. This is almost certainly the equipment that the officer in question was waiting for the fire engine to turn up with. If you wish to google for more, the key phrase would be "rescue saw".
posted by jaduncan at 2:45 AM on April 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


I hope this is not identifiable.
posted by Segundus at 2:45 AM on April 2, 2012


Is this a double ? I read this story before... still gives me chills.
posted by Pendragon at 2:54 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


It was linked as a comment a while back, I think.
posted by bunglin jones at 3:01 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Found it
posted by bunglin jones at 3:02 AM on April 2, 2012


Oh my God that will stay with me.
posted by StephenF at 3:25 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, that'll cheer us all up. Jesus.
posted by thelonius at 3:33 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I recognised it about halfway through, but this still is a powerful story deserving of a proper post.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:35 AM on April 2, 2012


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posted by carter at 3:40 AM on April 2, 2012


This is almost certainly the equipment that the officer in question was waiting for the fire engine to turn up with.

Another possibility is some of these things, which are what the fire engines around here use.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the same blog, this more recent post is also hard to read and very moving:

http://minimumcover.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/warning-graphic-post-the-innocence-of-youth/

As one of the commenters below says, this should be required reading at every school & college in the country. Such as waste of life, such a stupid accident.
posted by khites at 3:58 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Assuming the kids attending school and college are related to their parents, making this required reading isn't going to do anything for anyone.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:19 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the same blog, this more recent post is also hard to read and very moving:

http://minimumcover.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/warning-graphic-post-the-innocence-of-youth/

As one of the commenters below says, this should be required reading at every school & college in the country. Such as waste of life, such a stupid accident.


Shit.

I've been a seatbelt fundamentalist since I saw, age 10 or thereabouts, the aftermath of a head-on collision. The driver was lying, immobile, some 15 meters in front of his car.

Buckle up. Fer Chrissakes, kids, buckle up.
posted by Skeptic at 4:25 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've had this bookmarked for a while. It's more about what comes before the subject in the post, but it is pertinent. Watch it all the way through, if you haven't seen it. It is brutal and honest - and it reduced the road toll rate in one Australian state.
posted by arzakh at 4:36 AM on April 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


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posted by sutt at 4:43 AM on April 2, 2012


I hadn't seen that, arzakh... but I will make my kids watch it. Thank you.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:48 AM on April 2, 2012


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posted by Vibrissae at 4:49 AM on April 2, 2012


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posted by sonika at 5:18 AM on April 2, 2012


My mother and I were on our way to visit my grandparents for the holidays down in Florida one year. I was 14, a couple of months away from getting my learner's permit and I was very excited about driving. After hours on the interstate we were finally pulling off to take the back roads to our grandparents' retirement town. We exited and dropped down below the level of the interstate and were waiting for the light to change so that we could turn and go under the overpass. That was when the accident occurred.

From what we all witnessed and recalled to the police later. A car slightly bumped another on the overpass, causing the bumped car to skid and hit the guard rail of the overpass and stop. This caused several cars behind to slam into the stopped car's rear in a chain reaction. Then came the semi-trucks. Two of them. The first jack-knifed to the left, hitting the second right at its pivot point and causing it to jack-knife to the right. With the forward and right momentum these two knocked two of the cars over the guard rail and down below. The third, a minivan, was smashed up against the rail, by smashed I mean it crumpled the van like a soda can. I don't know how many people were in the back, or if there were any, but the front passengers were now pinned against the front windshield, their lower bodies sandwiched between the mass of steel behind them and the concrete guard rail in front of them. They were very much alive and concious.

We could no go anywhere. The two cars that had come over the railing were now on the ground in front of us. Cars were bumper to bumper behind us. We were stuck staring at this mass of crumpled cars for a long, long time. I have no idea how long it was. It felt like years. After a while we noticed the liquids raining down through the drains on the overpass. Someone yelled. People started to run. Then the fire started.

I was stuck, frozen. I couldn't move my body. I couldn't look away. I could only say, "What about those people in the van, Mom? What about those people up there?" My mother had no answers. The people didn't look frantic. They didn't flail around. I don't imagine their minds or bodies were working too well at that point, but they were still awake for a long, long time. It seemed like years.

Eventually the fire mostly died down. I suppose it burned up most of the spilled fuel. All that was left was this thick black smoke (tires?) that sort of shrouded everything and sent an angry black cloud towering up into the sky. Eventually, the cops took our starements and the road was cleared enough for us to be waved through and on some detour. We didn't talk, we just drove away. Being flat Florida, that tall, angry, black cloud was visible for a long, long time. It took me a couple of years to learn to drive after that. I couldn't be in a car or near a car without thinking of watching those two people burn to death. I can still imagine their green minivan, smashed like an accordion, pressing them against the windshild and that concrete guard rail, and their blank faces looking out through the black smoke.

I have never told that story before, not to my wife, not to anyone. I don't even know why I did just now, other than that the post brought it out. I don't like to even think about it. Even now, decades on it is still carved deeply into my memory. I still wonder if they knew what was happening to them, if they were really still concious, if they could feel anything. I'd like to think that the experience has made me a better person, it certainly shaped my world view.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:24 AM on April 2, 2012 [117 favorites]


Originally read this when it was linked in the Mefi comment that bunglin jones located upthread. Aside from the devastating tragedy of the death and the awful experience of the unfortunate policeman, something that I found interesting was the policeman's touching on class issues, toward the end of the article:

They have little, if any, concept of real life, and the tragedies that occur outside their electric gates, and see the Police as no more than a necessary evil that should only interact with the lower classes or come running with bowed heads and doffed caps when someone pinches their staddle stones.

I can't help but compare this class awareness with the seeming lack of same amongst police officers across the US, who are more than happy to pepper spray and manhandle the OWS protestors who chant at them "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:26 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree about that bit towards the end being somewhat slanted. I also figured that at this point in time, the recreation of it all has the author showing signs of simple mental exhaustion. So if nothing else I figured I'd give him some slack, because, you know, it's easy to hate on people who you think have it better than you do.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:31 AM on April 2, 2012


This is hauntingly familiar. I previously worked as a newspaper reporter in a rural area. I reported a crash at a crossroads in which an elderly couple burned to death, while conscious, in view of a dozen onlookers who were powerless to do anything.

The whole village was deeply traumatised. No-one could forget the sound or the smell.

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posted by mopheeoos at 5:42 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree about that bit towards the end being somewhat slanted.

Since I'm the only commenter so far to mention the bit toward the end (re: class issues) I assume you mean you "agree" with me, but I didn't say anything about feeling that his view was "somewhat slanted". And I don't personally think the points that he made require giving him "some slack", as though he's said something inappropriate or egregious. Nor do I think he's got a "hate on" for people who he thinks have it "better" than he does. Not at all. I think he's good and well sick of them not because they have more money than him, but because of the reasons he stated: in short, that they act like privileged assholes who are only concerned with themselves.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 AM on April 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I've seen hundreds of car crashes over the years as a volunteer firefighter and fires are extremely rare, particularly in cars less than 10 years old. But they do happen.

in short, that they act like privileged assholes who are only concerned with themselves.

Exactly, this is not something specific to a class or even a country. I've had people call me all sorts of names because I was manning a roadblock at 7 AM. I wanted so desperately to yell back at them that their morning commute time wasn't as important as the woman lying dead in the street 100 yards away but we can't do that. We just have to stand there and let them yell.
posted by tommasz at 6:07 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


God. I assume English police don't always carry guns. But if this were to happen to me in the US, I pray the cop would shoot me in the head before leaving me to the flames. Or give me the gun myself, if my hands were free.

[/knock on wood]
posted by nicebookrack at 6:14 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is brutal and honest - and it reduced the road toll rate in one Australian state.

That was a snazzily edited compilation of 20 years worth of extremely graphic road safety ads. The money shots of the shock impacts just kept on coming, like fireworks at the climax of the 1812 overture.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:17 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn. That story hit me harder than I expected.

A side note:

In modern cars, you can't just go cutting your way in willy-nilly. The actuators for air bags are everywhere now, and ones that haven't actuated are very dangerous. In some cases, it's probably worth the risk but, generally, you want a trained professional cutting someone out of a modern car.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:18 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


@10th Regiment--an internet friend of mine's mother died like that in FL. I wonder if it was the same accident. She said that a pile up happened, the mom got out of the car, the cop told her it's safer to remain in the car, she went back in, a fire started and she died in the car.

Either way, a horrible way to go.
posted by stormpooper at 7:06 AM on April 2, 2012


We suppress how horrific and commonplace these tragedies are through language, in part. o your bit to help people think clearly about the risks of driving.

Please call them 'collisions'. My 2-year old has an 'accident'. Cars collide.
posted by anthill at 7:11 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I was 16 and newly licensed, I decided to drag-race a friend down a gravel road. At the last moment, remembering the gruesome Driver's Ed movies I'd watched in class, I buckled my seatbelt. Less than 30 seconds later I was suspended by my belt in a car that had flipped diagonally. My worst injury of the night came from work earlier that evening, and was invisible by morning.

I was openly mocked - I remember him pointing and laughing at me in the hallway - by a fellow student. Two weeks later his car flipped, and landed on a fencepost, balancing upside-down. He didn't take it kindly when I returned the favor.

An informal study (one year of reading the obits in a local paper) by an engineer suggested that drivers 16-25 are more likely to be in lethal accidents than DUI drivers. It doesn't clarify whether age, inexperience, or both are the cause, but having known some late-life new drivers, age is almost certainly the issue.

It's almost unthinkable to the USA, but we could save uncountable numbers of teens by highly restricting their ability to drive alone and with peers.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:29 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Watch it all the way through, if you haven't seen it. It is brutal and honest - and it reduced the road toll rate in one Australian state.

Holy fuck.
posted by procrastination at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2012


ac·ci·dent [ak-si-duhnt] noun
1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents.
2. Law : such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault of the injured person for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought.
3. any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause.
4. chance; fortune; luck: I was there by accident.
5. a fortuitous circumstance, quality, or characteristic: an accident of birth.


I don't want to start a derail, anthill, but I don't think anybody "suppresses" how horrific automobile accidents can be by calling them accidents. Also, not all horrific car accidents involve collisions: witness for instance the Mont Blanc Tunnel fire.

Your 2-year-old has accidents, and probably collisions too. Cars have accidents and collisions. So do ships and planes, among other things. The Titanic disaster was an accident and a collision. The Hindenburg disaster was an accident, but not a collision. Crash tests are collisions, but not accidents.
posted by Skeptic at 7:32 AM on April 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


Please call them 'collisions'. My 2-year old has an 'accident'. Cars collide.

Well, except when they don't. "Accident" might be imperfect, but not all car related mishaps are the result of collisions. There's skidding, going off the road, flipping over... it's not always running into something else.

"Accident" is as best as the English language has come up with to describe "WELL OH SHIT THAT JUST HAPPENED" even though yeah, it doesn't really necessarily convey the gravity of what THAT entails w/r/t car accidents.
posted by sonika at 7:32 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


JINX!
posted by sonika at 7:33 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


having known some late-life new drivers, age is almost certainly the issue.

I was personally congratulated by the man giving me my driving test for waiting until I was 18 to get my license as 16 year olds had a much higher accident rate. Even just those two years made a huge difference, even in that one guy's anecdotal experience and while I don't know the stats off the top of my head - I'm pretty sure that they would bear that out.

Of course, I waited until I was 18 because I was quite frankly flat out terrified of driving after a mishap when I got my permit involving an icy road and pole. Everyone was uninjured, but poles are not very forgiving to cars.
posted by sonika at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2012


"Accident"

Using the word "accident" for these sorts of events neglects the fact that many of these events are avoidable. "Accident" implies that the crash is completely inevitable, unavoidable. But that doesn't accurately describe the situation.

I do believe that by calling these "accidents", we create a culture that doesn't deal enough responsibility to (1) drivers for their own negligent actions, (2) car manufacturers for flaws in designs, (3) traffic engineers for poor design of roads/signage/lighting, and so on.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:54 AM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Accident" is as best as the English language has come up with to describe "WELL OH SHIT THAT JUST HAPPENED"

The point about avoiding the word accident is that there is usually somebody to blame. Saying that car crashes "just happen" is, in the vast majority of cases, inaccurate.
posted by howfar at 7:55 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


damn...

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posted by homeless Visigoth at 7:59 AM on April 2, 2012


"Accident" implies that the crash is completely inevitable, unavoidable

No, it doesn't. It means it was unintentional.
posted by spaltavian at 8:01 AM on April 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


An informal study (one year of reading the obits in a local paper) by an engineer suggested that drivers 16-25 are more likely to be in lethal accidents than DUI drivers.

I have this thing where sometimes as I'm drifting off to sleep, I hallucinate that I smell things. I can't choose what I smell, but it's generally pleasant. Strawberry Shortcake, or a fresh draught beer, or steak on the grill; it's almost always food of some kind.

After I had graduated from high school, I picked up a side job working with my uncle on his wrecker. The second night we were out we got a call to respond to an accident.

6 kids were in a Chevy Chevette or Monza, when the driver pulled out from a stop sign in front of a loaded grain truck doing 60 MPH on highway 2. The truck T-boned the car, rolled up on top of it, and then slid across the ditch into someones garage.

We had a flatbed wrecker, and when we got there, they had just gotten the truck jacked up off the remains of the car. We pulled the car out from under the truck. It took them a bit to remove the bodies. It was a goddamned blender.

But the thing that remains with me - the smell. That mixture of anti-freeze, engine oil and bile. Sometimes, as I drift off to sleep at night, I hallucinate that I smell things. And sometimes, it's this that I smell.

I didn't work for my uncle again after that night.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've mentioned here once or twice that I volunteer as a firefighter. That reading gave me a nauseous sense of familiarity. Actually having somebody die under your hands is profoundly troubling, and even peaceful deaths are frenetic and strange when the emergency workers arrive. There's a real feeling of helplessness when you play your part, do your best, and still watch something so profoundly troubling pass by in front of your eyes.

The end of the article was interesting. He devoted a lot of screen space to discussing peoples' reactions and assumptions about police officers. I understand entirely why that's so troubling and difficult, and it seems to be the wedge that drives police away from the public. They deal with hard shit all the time, and they need people to understand and respect that. But on the other side of the coin, there's a real history of abuse of authority and issues with police, and at the gut level a lot of people are resentful and suspicious. I agree that people should be understanding of what he has to do throughout the day, but he needs to understand the context of his interactions with the public, and why that power relationship can be so uncomfortable.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:19 AM on April 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Accident" implies that the crash is completely inevitable, unavoidable

No, it doesn't. It means it was unintentional.


And this is precisely the kind of mindset we want to change.

Driving while drunk and killing another road user isn't an "accident".

Deliberately choosing to drive while drunk is tantamount to making the deliberate decision to put other peoples lives in danger. I wouldn't call this an accident.
posted by xdvesper at 8:25 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry, but the world accident in this context doesn't denote the idea of there being no one at fault. It's perhaps a bit misused in this context, but when I hear about a car accident I don't think immediately that no one is at fault. In fact, I have no problem saying such a thing as "He was at fault for that accident because he was drinking.".
posted by josher71 at 8:33 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't call this an accident.

I don't think that not calling things 'accidents', simply because there's an element of personal responsibility for a particular chain of events, is really going to discourage people from having them.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:33 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]



This is an erroneous belief. This is a circular rescue saw, as typically used by fire departments specifically to cut people out of cars. This is almost certainly the equipment that the officer in question was waiting for the fire engine to turn up with. If you wish to google for more, the key phrase would be "rescue saw".


Typically what you're looking for there is the cutters and spreaders that are collectively and colloquially known as "jaws of life." But there are a lot of tools, depending on what needs to happen, from reciprocating saws to pneumatic jacks.

Without that it sounds like he basically did the right thing. Keep the hood closed so the fire can't get air and do what you can to put it out. The number one mistake people make with contained fires like that is accidentally providing them with oxygen while trying to put them out.


For highway accidents we try to get a firetruck out there before the cops can even arrive, because they tend to be high risk and you can't always afford to wait later. I can see how in a city that's a lot harder though, with the high prevalence of minor accidents you can't send rescue crews to all of them.

It really does sound like he did everything right.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:34 AM on April 2, 2012


Using the word "accident" for these sorts of events neglects the fact that many of these events are avoidable. "Accident" implies that the crash is completely inevitable, unavoidable. But that doesn't accurately describe the situation.

As spaltavian has pointed out, "accident" means only that it was unintentional, not unavoidable.

The difference is best acknowledged in the aviation community. This is where the expression "human factor" comes from: the acceptance that human psychology and fallibility is a factor of many that contribute to accidents. Lawyers, politicians and journalists may be more intent in finding somebody to blame, whether it is a pilot, an air traffic controller or an engineer, but air crash investigators don't look for scapegoats: they look for factors which contributed to the accident and lessons in how to prevent a repeat.
posted by Skeptic at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


A rescue saw would have free'd the victim in under a minute. It is however a serious piece of kit and not something the officer is going to have room to carry around in his cruiser.

This fire was probably caused by an electrical short. It's really too bad that of all the safety equipment required of manufacturers we don't make car companies install electrical cut off switches that are required in practically all forms of racing. I've seen quite a few cars burn up from the lack of a disconnect. Nowadays you can't even get to the battery on most cars in a timely manner.
posted by Mitheral at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and that TAC video wasn't as graphic as I thought it would be, it probably rates as a 2/10 compared to the motor vehicle accidents on Bestgore...
posted by xdvesper at 8:39 AM on April 2, 2012


And this is precisely the kind of mindset we want to change.

Driving while drunk and killing another road user isn't an "accident".

Driving while drunk is gross negligence. Unintentionally killing another road user while driving while drunk is both an accident and manslaughter.

However, lack of intentionality isn't an excuse for gross negligence. Only if you believe otherwise, can I understand that you may be offended by the word accident.

posted by Skeptic at 8:48 AM on April 2, 2012


And this is precisely the kind of mindset we want to change.... I wouldn't call this an accident.

Accident does not mean no one is at fault. You're really not going to get anywhere by misusing a word and then haranguing other people to use your faulty definition.
posted by spaltavian at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Without that it sounds like he basically did the right thing. Keep the hood closed so the fire can't get air and do what you can to put it out. The number one mistake people make with contained fires like that is accidentally providing them with oxygen while trying to put them out.


How does keeping the hood closed deprive the fire of oxygen? The whole engine compartment is open underneath.
posted by jon1270 at 8:53 AM on April 2, 2012



How does keeping the hood closed deprive the fire of oxygen? The whole engine compartment is open underneath.

It keeps the smoke trapped in the engine compartment. This has an effect of damping down the fire and slowing it's spread.

It also meant that the retardant wasn't going to be as effective - but it's a crap shoot as to whether it's better to raise the hood and hose the engine down, because you might raise the hood and have the fire really take off.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:56 AM on April 2, 2012


How does keeping the hood closed deprive the fire of oxygen? The whole engine compartment is open underneath.

Light a fire in a box closed at the top and open at the bottom and it will slowly burn. Open the top and the hot air goes up, actively pulling fresh air into the fire. That makes the difference in the world when you're waiting for a fire truck two miles away...
posted by pjaust at 9:00 AM on April 2, 2012


It keeps the smoke trapped in the engine compartment.

Okay, that makes sense. As an untrained bystander my inclination would be to lever the hood open to provide direct access to the fire, which still seems like it could work while the fire is small.

With engine fires, what is it primarily that's burning? Is it a matter of rubber fuel lines rupturing and then spraying gas all over the place?
posted by jon1270 at 9:04 AM on April 2, 2012


Driving while drunk is gross negligence.

If we're going to have this argument, it is actually recklessness. Negligence is an unreasonable failure to perform an activity to the appropriate standard, recklessness is intentionally running a known risk. A drunk-driver is by definition reckless, but not necessarily negligent (if they drive to the appropriate standard, they will typically not be held to be negligent). However, the criminal law does not usually consider the mental component of such activities, and driving drunk is a strict liability offence.

The school of thought that opposes the use of "accident" is quite significant, it's not something anyone has pulled out of their arse. I would argue that the reasonable tendency to avoid a culture of blame may unduly incline people toward rejecting the argument that a culture of responsibility is a good thing that should be encouraged.
posted by howfar at 9:05 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Skeptic, why is this a derail? The whole point of the OP's linked article is to impress on people how seriously they should take driving safety. I argue (flippantly, I admit), that another large influence on attitudes towards driving safety is the choice of language used to describe car crashes. This isn't my view - I was indoctrinated by the (North American) Young Drivers program and the (UK) Road Peace.

As Spaltavian points out, using the word "Accident" frames the discussion towards whether "intention" matters. Describing car crashes as "accidents" because they weren't intentional is useless - they're all unintentional! The distinction does nothing but reassure people that they "didn't mean it".

We live in a world of routine speeding, tailgating, unsafe lane changing, yellow-light running, driving beyond headlight coverage etc. etc. Collisions that happen because of these factors are not 'accidents'.

Regarding the other types of car injuries that aren't collisions... if your car doesn't collide with anything then it probably isn't dangerous for the occupants. Drive into a tree? Collision. Drive off a cliff? Collision (with the ground). Driving is objectively dangerous. Let's describe it without euphemisms, please.
posted by anthill at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2012


With engine fires, what is it primarily that's burning? Is it a matter of rubber fuel lines rupturing and then spraying gas all over the place?

That sometimes happens; gas landing on a exhaust manifold can ignite. Worse is in cars like the Fiero where gas can spray on the catalitic convertor. However from the description this is a classic electrical fire. A wire got pinched allowing a short to ground; current flowed in the wire to the limit of the wire to support it (IE: resistance of the wire limits current flow) which melts the insulation and eventually ignites it.
posted by Mitheral at 9:09 AM on April 2, 2012


Ugh. I was in a head-on collision about 7 or 8 years ago now, and I'm convinced that I would have been dead had I not worn my seatbelt.

It makes me ache to think about it, and I don't remember the actual impact, but I do remember inspecting myself thoroughly after the fact, and seeing a fantastic brush burn and bruise combo around all the bony areas that my seatbelt was resting against.

Because I was wearing my seatbelt, I was able to remain cognizant enough to check myself for injuries (of which I had many relatively minor ones), climb out my driver's-side window, pitch myself onto the pavement, and shake and cry. I also talked to the nice first responder who told me an airbag deploys at 324mph.

Because I was wearing my seatbelt, I was able to join my friends for some celebratory drinks to the fact that I was still alive.

It was scary. I now continuously admonish my friends to "buckle up, motherfuckers".
posted by Verdandi at 9:10 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


from the description this is a classic electrical fire. A wire got pinched allowing a short to ground; current flowed in the wire to the limit of the wire to support it (IE: resistance of the wire limits current flow) which melts the insulation and eventually ignites it.

I've always thought, purely out of intuition rather than actual knowledge, that "electrical fires" were primarily fires where an overheated wire ignites other materials. Seems weird that the electrical insulation alone would be a significant source of fuel.
posted by jon1270 at 9:16 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was reading this at work, where my office is right next to the kitchen. Someone melted styrofoam or something reheating some food while I was reading it, and for a moment I thought I was going to be sick.
posted by Jairus at 9:16 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


One day I hit a deer with my truck. I had to get a cop involved and when he showed up we dragged it off the road. The impact split the deer's hide so it looked like the organs were just about to spill out. I said to myself, but loud enough that the cop could hear, "imagine what this does to a human...."

He gave me a look that made me say, "shut up klanawa. Shut. Up."
posted by klanawa at 9:28 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, guys? If you honestly think accident is a euphemism, or that magically making everyone call them "collisions" is going to save lives, you are off your rocker. I know it feels good to stand on a box and lecture everyone about how THEY HAPPEN BECAUSE WE'RE CARELESS but really, your obscure crusade is just not going to make people more careful.

If you want to reduce accidents, you should be doing things like pushing for more extensive driver's education, mandatory refresher safety training, and increased enforcement of things like seatbelt laws. Call and write your congresspeople, donate to traffic safety foundations.

I totally agree with you that shit like running red lights is painfully stupid, especially since 90% of the time all that gets you is the privilege of stopping earlier at the next red. But getting into a fight about semantics won't really change that behavior.

d.z. wang - thanks for the FPP. I think it was worth reading.
posted by kavasa at 9:29 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Everybody who commented seemed to enjoy that band in the van covering Hall and Oates "Can't go for that" posted the other day but the whole time I was watching it I was thinking the singer really ought to paying attention to what is going on outside of the car she was (distractedly) driving.

(Or maybe she wasn't driving and they were seated in rows 2 & 3 but it sure looked to me like she was driving.)
posted by bukvich at 9:34 AM on April 2, 2012


As Spaltavian points out, using the word "Accident" frames the discussion towards whether "intention" matters.

No, it doesn't, and no, that wasn't spaltavian's point. What definitely frames the discussion in terms of whether intention matters is making a big fuzz about whether it is appropriate to use the word "accident" in this context.

There are accidents. Sometimes they are harmless, sometimes they are all too harmful. Sometimes they are unavoidable, sometimes they are all too avoidable. Sometimes they are innocent, sometimes they are all too culpable. They are all accidents.

It's certainly important to instill a culture of responsability, but you don't need to change the meaning of a word to achieve this. Indeed, it may even be counterproductive to convince people that even "innocent" distractions, like reaching for a DVD, can have awful consequences.
posted by Skeptic at 9:36 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"for convincing people", rather.
posted by Skeptic at 9:39 AM on April 2, 2012


About 15 years ago I was sitting in my car at a light when a van somehow swerved, hit a streetlight, flew up in the air and then landed on its side, about twenty feet in front of me. It was packed full with a family on holiday from somewhere in Asia. They had flown into Vancouver and were driving down to California. I know that because I ended up holding one of the victims and talking to her while the paramedics were on their way, and then after they turned up and were dealing with the many other victims.

When the van landed on its side some people were pinned underneath it, I guess they didn’t have seatbelts on. There were tons of cars around, it was a busy intersection. Some people immediately jumped out of their cars and ran to help. Others, like me, took a few seconds, then went to help as well. Many, many more stayed in their cars watching. In shock I guess. Afterwards I thought a lot about the different reactions people had.

We pushed the van back upright. The girl I held onto came out the window was lying on the ground while I supported her neck. I could see two elderly people in the back of the van and they looked dead. Another victim was wandering around the scene, keening and speaking in a language I didn’t know. When the paramedics showed up they did triage and it was a while before the girl I held was taken away. I had done some first aid at swimming lessons and one of the things they had told us about was to keep talking to someone who was hurt. The girl spoke English and asked her about Disneyland, asking her what she wanted to see. There were lychee nuts all over the road and blood all over the ground. It was the first time I had seen blood actually flowing.

After she was taken away traffic was still trapped and I had nothing to do so I wandered back through the line for a while. Drivers who were just arriving were frustrated, yelling out their windows asking when the road would be opening. It was thinking about them that started me crying when I finally arrived home later that night.
posted by Cuke at 9:47 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, guys? If you honestly think accident is a euphemism, or that magically making everyone call them "collisions" is going to save lives, you are off your rocker. I know it feels good to stand on a box and lecture everyone about how THEY HAPPEN BECAUSE WE'RE CARELESS but really, your obscure crusade is just not going to make people more careful.

If I heard someone describe a car wreck as a collision instead of an accident, what will NOT be going through my mind is "How refreshing to be shifting away from a blameless driving culture and using better language to more accurately describe this situation." I'm truly honestly not going think anything of it other than you used a different word. The subtlety would be completely lost on me.

I don't think I'm alone in this.

Language is important and language use contributes to culture, but as many have pointed out, the word "accident" itself has many meanings and to pretend that it only means "Ooopsies, I didn't mean it!" is a facile interpretation of both the word and how language itself works. I've absolutely heard of accidents where one party was clearly at fault and in context, it makes perfect sense to say "That accident was totally his fault."

One could argue that in the context of driving, the word "accident" has taken on the meaning of "an incident where driving goes wrong - in varying degrees from 'oops, I scratched it' to truly terrifying." Words evolve. "Accident" has absolutely evolved to succinctly describe driving related mishaps, no matter whether they are blameless.

Though if you truly want to avoid the word because this is a priority to you, I think "incident" would be more accurate than "collision." Incident would cover fires and other mishaps not involving hitting things.
posted by sonika at 10:22 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


:(
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:29 AM on April 2, 2012


Why do discussions of important subjects on Metafilter so often end up as arguments about irrelevances?
posted by Grangousier at 10:30 AM on April 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Kind of amazing to me that we have people in this thread who think being pedantic about the word "accident" is going to do more to get people to drive safely, than you know, a story about what it's like to watch someone burn to death.
posted by danny the boy at 10:41 AM on April 2, 2012 [25 favorites]


Why do discussions of important subjects on Metafilter so often end up as arguments about irrelevances?

Because it's really, really hard to discuss important subjects and easy to argue about irrelevancies. I'm not even sure how much there is to say here about the article, other than it's kind of horrifying that such a thing happened and that it must be very hard for the author to deal with it. There's probably more to say about car culture and the danger of auto accidents, but not a whole lot more, and there isn't going to be a whole lot of disagreement there, which limits discussion. What words people should use to describe deadly vehicular collisions, though, is easy to offer an opinion on and has obviously generated a lot of disagreement.

People aren't generally geared to produce interesting, substantial rhetoric and will always pick a fight they can win over one they might well lose.
posted by Copronymus at 11:03 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what we are saying is it would be good procedure for emergency teams to dose car engine bays with foam extinguishers as a first step in the case of trapped occupants?
posted by fistynuts at 11:03 AM on April 2, 2012



So what we are saying is it would be good procedure for emergency teams to dose car engine bays with foam extinguishers as a first step in the case of trapped occupants?
posted by fistynuts at 11:03 AM on April 2 [+] [!]



Not necessarily. The trick is getting properly equipped and trained people on scene as quickly as possible, from there things become exponentially more manageable.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:11 AM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am trying so hard right now to convince myself that this is fake, that stuff like this doesn't really happen.

It's not working.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:29 AM on April 2, 2012


I do believe that by calling these "accidents", we create a culture that doesn't deal enough responsibility to (1) drivers for their own negligent actions, (2) car manufacturers for flaws in designs, (3) traffic engineers for poor design of roads/signage/lighting, and so on.

So where exactly is this "culture that doesn't deal enough responsibility" for traffic accidents to be found? Anyone who deals with traffic accidents--the police, insurance companies, lawyers, governments who build and maintain roads, car manufacturers, people who have been in accidents, etc--is well aware of the fact assigning liability and determining negligence is one of the first things that happens when accidents are investigated and the damage assessed. No one is trying to obfuscate anything by calling them accidents.
posted by Hoopo at 11:48 AM on April 2, 2012


If you want to reduce accidents, you should be doing things like pushing for more extensive driver's education, mandatory refresher safety training, and increased enforcement of things like seatbelt laws. Call and write your congresspeople, donate to traffic safety foundations.
I suppose this might help, a little.

I still think the focus should be on the car as a dangerous device. Most people should not be driving them. The correct answer here is to call and write in support of public transportation and against more highways and other car-centered development such as parking garages. People being careless is always a problem, but the real problem here are cars... they make an ordinarily careless human into a killing machine...
posted by smidgen at 12:04 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


If everyone had the perspective of people "who deal with traffic accidents", the roads would be a much safer place. The pedantic language discussion isn't about what professionals know, it's about what the general public imagines.

Isn't it interesting how the word "accident" came to be used, though? I imagine it stems from the much much more common fender-benders, scrapes and dents, and everyday road damage that people do. When telling stories about these events, of course people would rather use a word that implies "An event that happens for no apparent reason, that is unpredictable, could not be avoided, is unexpected, occurs by chance." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

But from an industrial safety / risk management perspective, language matters. Not as much as stricter driver licensing or refresher training, of course, but one has to start somewhere. Stopping "Enhanced Interrogation" begins with calling it what it is.
posted by anthill at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Many thanks for posting this...I have read the comments so far and am moved by the responses that have been posted.

Since being published this blog has received many thousands of hits and a significant quantity of them have come from external sites such as this. I am eternally grateful to d.z. wang for his endorsement and for providing the additional exposure that I have experienced as a result.

I will publish other articles from my blog here when I can, but if others with the appropriate account privileges would like to do so on my behalf in the interim I would be very pleased to see them on here.

Regards,

MC
posted by minimumcover at 12:37 PM on April 2, 2012 [23 favorites]


The pedantic language discussion isn't about what professionals know, it's about what the general public imagines.

What is it you think the general public doesn't know about traffic accidents? No one thinks there's never any fault in traffic accidents. At times you can be involved in accidents that are no fault of your own, like being rear-ended, so a term like "accident" encompasses a lot.

I note you omitted the first definition in the Oxford link, so at this point it's getting obvious you're trolling. Just because you choose to ignore a common usage of the word "accident" doesn't mean it's the wrong word to use.
posted by Hoopo at 12:40 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Accident" is a weasel word that lets people pretend it just happened to them whereas the reality is that almost always one or more parties was directly responsible. Between vehicles it is a "crash", between vehicles and people it is "assault".
posted by epo at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


anthill: An event that happens for no apparent reason, that is unpredictable, could not be avoided, is unexpected, occurs by chance." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary)

I hate to get in the middle of this friendly debate, but the Oxford dictionary page you linked to doesn't contain the words "unpredictable" or "could not be avoided." Neither does it contain equivalent words or phrases like 'unavoidable' or 'could not be predicted.' It's hard to see your claim that they are there as anything but disingenuous.
posted by jon1270 at 12:45 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am trying so hard right now to convince myself that this is fake, that stuff like this doesn't really happen.
That's the thing about coppers, for every animal who enjoys cracking heads there's someone risking their life in the most harrowing of circumstances.

They're often the same person.
posted by fullerine at 12:48 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


minimumcover, thank you for posting your stories. I can't imagine what these experiences must be like for you.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:49 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always thought, purely out of intuition rather than actual knowledge, that "electrical fires" were primarily fires where an overheated wire ignites other materials. Seems weird that the electrical insulation alone would be a significant source of fuel.

You may be right. The first hand knowledge I've got is of older automobiles, say up into the 80s. Newer cars may use an insulation that won't burn. But on those older cars if the wire is run in enclosed spaces where the melted insulation can't drip away from the hot wires it'll catch fire. I'm thinking specifically of the mid 80s Ford LTD I was driving that had it's steering column catch fire. It was one of those cars with so many stereo and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel that the horn button was on a stalk. Being pre-multiplexing there were a lot of wires running up the centre of the steering wheel.
posted by Mitheral at 12:55 PM on April 2, 2012


> It's really too bad that of all the safety equipment required of manufacturers we don't make car companies install electrical cut off switches that are required in practically all forms of racing.

Some cars do have a battery safety terminal that severs the positive cable when any airbag fires. Now if you're in an accident where that doesn't trigger, it's too bad there isn't a manual disconnect switch in a well-known location for rescuers to use.
posted by morganw at 12:56 PM on April 2, 2012


Ok, I'm being repetitive, and probably preaching to the choir here, but I think it really needs to be stressed that that "traffic safety" and the weird semantic argument between "accident" and "crash" really don't mean anything.

What is going on here is that we're letting people die... I was curious, so I looked it up:

In the US, in 2009[1]:
Fatal passenger car crashes: roughly 13k out of 5.5 million accidents
pedestrians killed by vehicles: ~4100

Fatal transit accidents: roughly 230 out of 5360

The numbers could be fudged a little, but that is still close to 2 orders of magnitude.

The safest traffic is obviously none at all. The best safety training is to learn to avoid riding in cars for regular trips. If you are voting against transit because your don't want to pay extra to own your car, you are killing people.

[1] http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/transportation.html
posted by smidgen at 12:57 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


And someday the connection from my fingers to my brain will learn verb-noun agreement, until then... argh, argh!
posted by smidgen at 12:59 PM on April 2, 2012


The most horrifying aspect of this story for me is not even that he burned to death, but the speed with which it happened. I can only imagine the relief and endorphin rush from escaping immediate death following a bad crash, and to have that slowly replaced by a creeping realization of impending death? Christ. The second most horrifying aspect is the fact that the wife or girlfriend got a call that hey, I was in a crash but everything is ok, only to have to be told later on that no, it's not ok, he's actually dead. Christ.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:07 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]




Many thanks for posting this...I have read the comments so far and am moved by the responses that have been posted.

Since being published this blog has received many thousands of hits and a significant quantity of them have come from external sites such as this. I am eternally grateful to d.z. wang for his endorsement and for providing the additional exposure that I have experienced as a result.

I will publish other articles from my blog here when I can, but if others with the appropriate account privileges would like to do so on my behalf in the interim I would be very pleased to see them on here.

Regards,

MC


Thanks for stopping by MC, and thanks for sharing. It made the place a little bit richer.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:07 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This really makes me never want to get into a motor vehicle again.

For lots more horrifying discussion and links, there's this Making Light thread on seat belts saving lives. "Sure, you hear people talking about wanting to be “thrown clear” in the event of an accident. If you want to simulate being “thrown clear,” go to the fifth floor of a building and jump out the window."

(I always wear my seatbelt. I don't drive if others aren't wearing theirs.)
posted by jeather at 1:34 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is my local community health services department trolling? I admittedly couldn't find an online version of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

The fact that the word 'accident' has multiple meanings is my point. Is anyone suggesting that using 'car crash' will confuse your audience?
posted by anthill at 1:41 PM on April 2, 2012


Another volunteer firefighter chiming in. Usual training is that when you arrive at a car fire, you want to try and get the hood open. This allows you to get water (or better yet, foam) onto the actual fire iteself; trying to sneak it in through the edges around the hood or the grill means you're going to be there for a long time. If you can pop the hood release from inside, great! Otherwise you can cut a "V" over the latch with the rescue saw or cut the hinges on both sides (watch our for those gas struts!) and open the hood from the back. All of this supposes you're there with full gear and 750-1,000 gallons of water in the pumper. One cop with a fire extinguisher, maybe yes, maybe no.

Watching someone die and being unable to help is a terrible thing. I used to think that I was a really level headed down-to-earth guy and that not much could affect me. Now . . . now I've seen stuff. I don't think that way anymore.
posted by Standeck at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stopping "Enhanced Interrogation" begins with calling it what it is.

This is just flat logically false. By refusing to call torture "enhanced interrogation," you are, in fact, shedding light on an important subject and refusing to gussy up something reprehensible. If enough people do this, more people become aware that torture is being committed. More people become aware, more pressure gets put on the power that be, torture might be stopped.

By refusing to call automobile collisions "accidents"... you're refusing to use a word. No one is going to drive more carefully or think twice about getting behind the wheel if you simply substitute "collision" or "crash" for accident. It absolutely does not have the same effect.

Also, by appealing to torture... your argument seems to be doubling down. I've been in this place where I've gotten myself backed into my own corner and the smartest thing to do in this situation is to bow out. I mean that sincerely - you're not coming across well right now and I can't tell if you're simply angling for a response or if you're trying so hard to defend your point that you're going way too far.

Is anyone suggesting that using 'car crash' will confuse your audience?

No, it's just suggesting that substituting "car crash" for "accident" won't have any effect whatsoever on whether or not anyone chooses to drive.
posted by sonika at 2:17 PM on April 2, 2012


Thanks to everyone in this thread who knows about car fires and is taking the time to drop some useful knowledge about how they work and how to respond. That conversational thread is the reason I like MetaFilter comments.

Shouldn't a properly fused electrical circuit prevent wires from overheating if they're shorted to ground, because the fuse is meant to blow before the wire reaches its capacity?
posted by lostburner at 2:29 PM on April 2, 2012


Yep, with cars or buildings or whatever, you never give a fire more air till your hose lines are charged and in place and you're ready to deal with a big flare-up.

There's plenty of fuel besides gasoline and wiring insulation in the engine compartment, lots of plastic. In a major wreck, plastic stuff can get squashed into proximity to hot exhaust and shorted wires. Once plastic gets burning it can put out a lot of heat and burn aggressively. Usually there won't be just the right geometry to cause a fire, but sometimes.

I'm still new, just 2 years in as a volunteer ff. Have dealt with a few dead people but not yet had to watch something like this in front of me. That cop must have felt so helpless. All the standard cop-vs-firefighter ribbing aside—my heart goes out to him. Hope he got some helpful PTSD counselling.

Last month I went to a lecture about extrication methods for newer vehicles. There's a lot to it, with high-strength steel alloys, multiple airbags, and high voltage hybrids. What impressed me is the lack of standardization and markings to assist rescue personnel. The perfect cut on one vehicle could be useless or dangerous on another car. Seems to me the auto industry could improve on this quite a bit.

Stay safe out there. Driving is the most dangerous thing most people do, by far.

On preview: fuses are normally in the passenger cabin, so with a battery in the standard location and a crushed engine compartment, there's plenty of opportunity for a short to occur between the current source and the fuse. And there's generally no fuse on the fat main wires off the battery.
posted by maniabug at 2:35 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could it have helped to try and starve the fire for air by covering it with a blanket or a coat?
posted by Hediot at 2:40 PM on April 2, 2012


fuses are normally in the passenger cabin, so with a battery in the standard location and a crushed engine compartment, there's plenty of opportunity for a short to occur between the current source and the fuse. And there's generally no fuse on the fat main wires off the battery.

Seems like a shame and an easy fix for car safety. I know that there are often fuse boxes in the engine compartment. I'm not an auto engineer, but better fusing seems like another easy area for serious improvement.
posted by lostburner at 2:45 PM on April 2, 2012


Fuses are designed to break a connection when a certain amount of current hits them. The idea is for the fuse to melt before the device or wire does. If your fuse capacity is too high the circuit will break somewhere else; the fuse is always lower capacity than the line and device.
They can't do much to protect you from frayed and arcing wires.

When you smash in the front of a car, you could have a leaking battery, you could have torn wires, you could have spilled oil or gasoline fumes, a whole bunch of contained systems can all be opened up and interacting. It's hard to protect against error states because, hell, they're by nature chaotic. Honestly though, even as someone that loves classic cars, I have to say that new cars are fantastically safe compared to what used to be on the roads; they've come a really long way in that regard in the last few decades.

Also, thanks for the added insight Standeck, I agree entirely. Once someone with proper extinguishing equipment is there they'd get that hood open and put everything out. The danger is, as you alluded to, that a small domestic style extinguisher might be insufficient, and that the fire might flash when you open the hood, making things even worse. Anyway, thanks for the insight, and thanks for volunteering.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:57 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe covering the vent by the windscreen might have helped a little, and some bulky material to jam under the front of the car to cut off the air intake from the bottom (but perhaps something else to catch on fire)... but the difference either would make is probably not much. It sounds like the patient would have needed probably at least 5 minutes after a rescue rig arrived.

Being right there with the jaws and protective gear and manpower and still not being able to work faster than the fire is grade A nightmare material, for sure.

Some cars do have all the fuses in the engine compartment, but there again the fuse box could be crushed and become the source of ignition itself... or the battery and fuse box could be in the rear waiting for that whopper rear end collision. A main disconnect would be great to have, but still where do you put it so it's always reachable? Ya can't win 'em all I guess.
posted by maniabug at 3:02 PM on April 2, 2012


We had a flatbed wrecker, and when we got there, they had just gotten the truck jacked up off the remains of the car. We pulled the car out from under the truck. It took them a bit to remove the bodies. It was a goddamned blender.

I towed cars for a little while when jobs were scarce after the dotcom bubble. I worked for a local company, and we had contracts with several of the police departments in the area. We did a lot of DUI tows and miscellaneous other driver stops involving tows, lockouts, etc., but about half of the police calls were in response to a wreck. Most of the time the flatbed was best, because you were never 100% sure the car would have functioning wheels. However, our explicit arrangement was that all the medical, forensic stuff had to be done before we ever got there. We only got the call when everything was more or less cleaned up and the car was ready to be towed. This was the standard policy (maybe law) with towing and PDs in CA, and I'm sure it had to do with liability - blood and other body fluids are usually considered biohazards.

I remember talking to the owner one night after hauling in a bunch of accident calls. He said when he first got into the business back in the 1960s there was no law against a towing company (or several) responding to a singe accident as soon as they became aware. This lead to wreckers listening to police band radios and racing to a fresh accident scene to get there first, and often violent showdown type situations between multiple drivers competing for the same job. By the time I was towing the law in CA stated only PD-contracted towers could go to accident scenes, and only one at a time, with the company to be dispatched specifically by the PD, and done in turn so everyone gets a fair shot to make money. I admit sometimes feeling like a vulture when I was working in that capacity, but all I had to do was deal with the cars after the worst was over. I did have to fully pluck a car off a busted telephone pole (the driver broke a steel telephone pole clean in half and managed to land the car straight on top of the leftover stump, bottoming it out on the engine with two wheels stuck way up in the air). But I can't imagine racing to a fresh accident scene to be the first tow truck to hook up a wrecked car with injured/dead people still inside before the EMTs arrive, and potentially have to fight other drivers when you get there.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:23 PM on April 2, 2012


So from a, "what in God's name could I do in this situation?" line of thought: If you had an axe, crowbar, other-large-tool that couldn't get through the door (assuming imminent death of the occupant regardless of what airbags you set off) is it bad to get in some other way?

Taking a crowbar to the back windshield, breaking through the rear doors to pull/lever the chair back, trying to can-opener the roof with an axe, etc.?

I assume there's something unwise/unworkable about these approaches but there has to be something one can do when the front end of the vehicle is inaccesible...
posted by Slackermagee at 4:43 PM on April 2, 2012


Depends on the situation. In this case just gaining another entry to the cabin wasn't enough because the dashboard and steering wheel had moved backwards on impact and had pinned him into the driver’s seat.

Probably his legs or pelvis was wedged, but if it were upper torso thn reclining the seat may help. The expected solution is to place a hydraulic ram between dash and rear seat to push the dash out of the way.

If you can get through a car roof with an axe, please don't walk but run to your local firehouse and join up :-)
posted by maniabug at 7:11 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now children, please pay attention. All this arguing is silly. The idea of avoiding the word "accident" for vehicle collisions is at least as old as 1970. My sister had driver's Ed. that year, and she was taught this word choice, for the very reason described. Whether this is worth while or not is another matter. Certainly it is bullshit linguistically, but that's fine. The argument is not a linguistic one anyhow. (I myself never had Driver's Ed, as they didn't offer it in college).
posted by Goofyy at 4:12 AM on April 3, 2012


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