November 7, 2006

Fabulous AIP article on vehicle safety and physics

From this paper: (Subscription required, but that’s no problem).

The evidence is compelling that body-on-frame light trucks cannot safely coexist with passenger cars under existing conditions. That problem is critical because so many light trucks are used nowadays as car substitutes. Innovative technology with new materials is promising. Light and strong composite materials characterized by high absorption of crush energy per kilogram are being developed, and progress is being made in their manufacture.17 Such technologies could substantially reduce contact injuries arising from crashes between light trucks and cars. Moreover, these materials could yield vehicle designs that reduce mass for a given interior space. There is also a need for tests and regulations with regard to the crash compatibility of disparate vehicle designs and sizes. Currently no such tests or regulations are being implemented, or even developed, in the US.

Government regulation and manufacturer ingenuity have resulted in impressive technologies for improving the safety of motor vehicles. Zobel has listed such innovations in decreasing order of their importance to safety: seat belts, passenger compartment integrity, electronic stability control, and air bags. We see substantial opportunities for further progress in design: Passenger compartments can be made stronger. Belts and bags can be improved to restrict lateral movement and nudge occupants into optimal position when a crash is imminent. And front ends can be redesigned to increase overall structural interaction between colliding vehicles.

For me, the most interesting quote is this one:

We have found that among cars, risk correlates much more strongly with the blue-book price of the used car than with its mass.

Also, figure six from the paper:

Figure sixFigure six

Their caption says

Death risk for drivers of the struck car in front-to-side impacts, shown as a function of the type of vehicle whose front struck the driver’s side and normalized to the registered number (model years 1997–2001) of each type. (Data from Fatality Analysis Reporting System.)

Fabulous paper, well worth a read.


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