Researchers Using Crash Data from OnStar to Develop Safer Vehicles

General Motors Corp. and the University of Michigan Medical School are working on a new study that will try to guide emergency workers and doctors who respond to car accidents — and develop safer vehicles along the way.

Researchers are using crash and injury data from GM’s OnStar service to learn more about the links between certain types of crashes and injuries. The in-vehicle system alerts emergency rescue officials when an air bag deploys or the vehicle is involved in a crash.

The study could help emergency room doctors know what to expect before the victim of a car accident arrives at the hospital. It also may help rescue workers determine when they need heavy equipment to extricate passengers or should send injured motorists to trauma centers.

“When you show up at the scene, every minute counts,” said Dr. Stewart Wang, professor of surgery and director of the University of Michigan Program for Injury Research and Education. “If you can equip the responders, fire and EMS rescue folks with an idea of what to expect at the scene, you will help them.”

The study, launched earlier this month, will help the automaker make safety improvements in future vehicles, company officials said. One focus of the research will be on rollover crashes, which kill more than 10,000 people annually despite accounting for only a small percentage of accidents.

In the past, auto safety researchers have relied upon police reports, hospital records and in-vehicle data recorders when trying to establish relationships between certain types of crashes and injuries.

OnStar technology, combined with medical records from study participants, will help draw more concrete links between crashes to the front or side, or rollovers, and injuries to the head, torso, pelvis and other parts of the body.

The advanced technology, which first debuted on the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, uses sensors that transmit real-time data pinpointing where a vehicle is struck, whether it rolled over or if it was hit several times.

The system is available on about 2 million vehicles and provides data on about 1,000 types of crashes a month, said OnStar President Chet Huber. Huber said GM plans to approach subscribers involved in certain types of crashes to see if they’re interested in participating in the study anonymously.

Robert Lange, GM’s executive director of Structure and Safety Integration, said the study might one day allow them to create a database that would help guide ER doctors on the types of injuries that are commonly found in certain types of crashes.

For example, a doctor armed with the data might be able to anticipate injuries that a frail, elderly woman would sustain in a side-impact crash. Or injuries a young passenger might experience in a rollover.

It also could provide insight into the crashes that don’t lead to injuries. “I never know who doesn’t get hurt,” Lange said. “We never talk to those people, and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Wang, who is conducting the research with Lange, said the study is expected to examine nearly 200 cases and provide some findings within a year.

OnStar, a subsidiary of GM, is standard on most 2008 vehicles, which includes the hardware and first year’s subscription fee. After the first year, the subscription price is $16.95 a month or $199 annually. OnStar officials say the retention rate for their service is more than 60 percent.


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