QR Codes Could Cut Car-Crash Casualties

June 12, 2013

To raise the bar on safety, German car manufacturer Daimler plans to use Quick Response (QR) code stickers in its Mercedes-Benz range of cars. These black-and-white square barcodes will enable medical emergency rescue workers and fire crews to quickly access information that could ultimately save the lives of occupants involved in car crashes.

The QR code system, invented in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave to track vehicles during manufacture, was designed to facilitate high-speed component scanning.  Since then, its usage has escalated rapidly throughout the consumer and manufacturing sectors.

QR Codes differ from the one-dimensional barcode—data is stored in two planes and can be scanned vertically or horizontally. While a standard barcode can hold about 30 numbers, the QR barcode format is able to store over 7000.

The Mercedes-Benz application will direct smartphones to a Web page that shows details of the vehicle’s structure, and how to cut into it safely to free trapped and injured passengers. Critical information includes specifics about electrical cables, fuel tanks, batteries, high-pressure cylinders, and the location of airbags and their sensors. Currently, if a vehicle is severely damaged, emergency teams have to call in the registration number to obtain key vehicle data.

The QR codes initiative provides a more detailed and sophisticated extension to an existing campaign by ADAC, the German Automobile Association, which asks drivers to keep information about vehicle rescue details behind the vehicle’s sun visors.

Mercedes will position one QR code onto the inside surface of each vehicle’s petrol tank flap, and another on to the pillar built between the two doors on the car’s other side. The reason behind the dual-area positioning is that it’s rare for both areas to suffer major damage in a collision.

It’s also good security to have the QR codes in locked positions on the vehicle, because QR codes are vulnerable to “attaging.” Attaging is when these codes are used to transmit malicious data. Creating a new QR code isn’t that difficult, and it's easy to write malware into it and then stick the hacking QR code over the legitimate one. Anyone scanning that code could find that their mobile phone becomes part of a botnet.


Daimler decided to waive patent rights on the innovation so that others could use it free of charge. However, this isn’t the first time such information has become available in digital form. Several companies now offer communication applications that provide vehicle data for emergency crews.

In addition to those, the European Commission is financing eCall. This system recognizes when a car has crashed, and automatically calls the nearest emergency center. The European Commission says that eCall cuts emergency services’ response time by 50% in the countryside, and 60% in more urban areas.

One key aspect of the system is that if drivers and passengers are unconscious after a crash, impact sensors activate the system. It then transmits information automatically to alert emergency services about the location and time of the crash.

Conscious vehicle occupants also can make an eCall by pushing a button inside the car. If the occupants are unable to do this, the system can be used by anyone witnessing the accident, provided they’re familiar with the system.

In terms of information privacy, the system will sleeps in normal conditions. That means the vehicle can’t be tracked. However, of course, anyone carrying a mobile phone could be subject to tracking.


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