A different approach to how emergency services respond to motor vehicle collisions could reduce both deaths and disabilities, according to new research.

Last year 1,560 people died and 127,967 were injured in motor vehicle collisions in England. During the same period, more than 7,000 patients needed to be helped out of the vehicle by a process known as extrication. The technique known as the ‘Jaws of Life’ involves hydraulic apparatus and other similar tools being used to pry apart the wreckage of crashed vehicles in order to free people trapped inside.

Now a new study has found the method may actually be increasing the rate of death and injury.

Professor Tim Nutbeam, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Lead Consultant for the Devon Air Ambulance, along with colleagues within emergency care and the National Fire Chiefs Council found that the extrication methods do not offer the benefits that they were thought to offer as they are associated with significant movement.

Their study – funded by the Road Safety Trust – found only 0.7 per cent of patients trapped in motor vehicle collisions have spinal cord injury and in those with spinal injuries, many will also have significant other life-threatening injuries which need rapid assessment and management.

Furthermore, the spinal movements associated with extrication were found to be much larger during assisted extrication than when a patient self-extricated.

The research recommends that self-extrication should be delivered wherever possible with the extrication goal of minimising entrapment time.

“This research will reduce both deaths and disabilities and help us achieve our vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on UK roads,” said Sally Lines, CEO of The Road Safety Trust. “We look forward to the practical application of this research being used by emergency services.”