This is the first weekly edition of Salt Truck, a column that dissects automotive news to let you know who’s cooking with steam or just blowing smoke.

During the run of a week, we run into numerous stories that require a grain of salt to become palatable. Other stories require a metric ton of sodium chloride just to get past the headline.

We’re here to save you from automotive hypertension. This is the Salt Truck.

Right cart, wrong horse

While there are a vast number of Luddites that exist in the automotive industry – especially automotive journalism – I tend to be of the mind that more technology is better. Not that technology, in and of itself, is a good thing. But, technology that can make my day-to-day tasks easier, allow me to enjoy more quality time with friends and family, or (best of all) save my life, I’m typically very much a proponent.

Mercedes-Benz – builder of the S-Class, which is arguably the most technologically advanced sedan year after year – has announced they will deliver vehicle schematics to first responders by way of QR codes.

QR – or Quick Response – codes were first devised by the automotive industry in Japan as a way to track components and cars during the manufacturing process. Since then, numerous corporate entities, including advertisers, have attempted to co-opt the technology for their own gain.

In the case of Mercedes, by scanning a QR code affixed to the vehicle in question, first responders will then have access to detailed vehicle information to assist them in extracting you safely from a wreck. By safely, I mean for you and first responders. With today’s hybrids and electric vehicles, the last thing a firefighter needs is an unexpected defibrillation by way of cutting through a high-voltage cable or battery.

Except it’s a horrible solution and, at best, it might save one or two lives. Globally.

On one hand, Mercedes should be commended for making an effort to provide our first responders – many of them volunteers – with the information they need to stay safe.

On the other hand, QR code technology is (basically) dead. Very few members of your local fire department are going to be whipping out their iPhone to scan a sticker with their camera phone on a gas filler door.

Part of this has to do with the fact the vast majority of smartphones lack support for QR code scanning without first having to download an app to scan the 2-dimensional Minecraft barcodes.

“The current reality is that [QR codes] are still potentially useful in the public safety environment,” explained Darrell Reid, Deputy Chief of Communications and Technology for Toronto Fire Services.

“Although technologies are emerging that have distinct advantages over QR codes.”

Mercedes-Benz Rescue Assist QR CodeMercedes-Benz Rescue AssistMercedes-Benz Rescue Assist Schematic
Mercedes-Benz Rescue Assist. Click image to enlarge

He later explained having vehicle schematics pre-loaded on devices would be the best solution. However, those same devices would likely be able to scan QR codes as well. Toronto Fire Services is working toward rolling out tablet- or smartphone-based solutions in the next couple of years.

If you’re wondering, ‘What’s a QR code?’, thanks for driving my point home a little bit further. Even though QR codes have been used for a number of years now, most people still don’t know what they are. There’s even a Tumblr page dedicated to the fact nobody scans QR codes, called ‘Pictures of People Scanning QR-codes,’ where not a single image has been posted.

Mercedes-Benz is doing a great thing by approaching vehicle safety from another perspective, but I’m afraid they’ve attached their cart to the wrong horse.

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