Open a magazine, go to a shop, get handed a business card or look at a flyer and the odds are pretty good these days that you’ll be staring at a QR code. Those boxy little patterns turn any bit of paper into an interactive medium that, with a quick scan by a smartphone, will unleash all sorts of information, but can they save lives? Mercedes-Benz believes that they can and plans to use QR codes on all its future cars to help rescuers reach victims quickly and safely.

A car crash can be a frightening episode with every second counting as rescuers try to cut driver and passengers out of the stricken vehicle. It’s also hazardous for the rescuers because a saw cutting through a battery or a fuel tank means risking electrocution, fire or even explosion. That’s hard enough to avoid on a conventional gasoline-powered car, but with so many new types of hybrids and electric vehicles, the job has become that much harder.

Promoted by the ADAC, the German Automobile Association, rescue sheets are simple schematic diagrams of various model cars from different years. These sheets are designed to point out the best places to cut the roof off and to show rescue crews the positions of airbags, gas generators, fuel tanks, gas bottles, structural reinforcements, batteries, high-voltage components, control points, seat belt tensioners, and gas-filled springs.

These sheets are a simple and obvious solution, but there’s still a problem. Where to put the rescue sheet in the car? The most popular recommendation is to tuck it behind the sun visor, but given the average motorist, will it stay there? There there’s the question of how to get to it after a crash and, if they can't, how can the rescuers get the right sheet without a lot of web surfing and cross checking.

Mercedes-Benz’s solution is to place QR codes on its new cars, so that rescue crews can use their smartphones or tablets to instantly retrieve information on how to make a speedy and safe recovery. Two stickers will be placed on the cars. One under the fuel tank flap and the other on the B-pillar on the opposite side. The reasoning is that it’s unlikely that both of these spots will be damaged. The crews just scan the codes and their device pulls up the correct and up-to-date sheet.

Since Mercedes-Benz has made rescue sheets for all its cars going back to 1971, similar QR stickers can be retrofitted to older vehicles. Furthermore, Mercedes-Benz has waived patent rights for the idea, so other car makers can make their own stickers for their own vehicles.