Vehicle collisions occur every day in every imaginable combination of vehicle type, speed, angle, and a plethora of other factors. Studying the physics of all sorts of collisions is important for a number of reasons, the foremost of which are to improve vehicle safety and to improve our understanding of how real world collisions occur so that we can reconstruct them.

Before vehicles are sold on the market, they are subjected to a battery of government-enforced safety testing to ensure that the vehicles meet various standards. These tests often include frontal, rear, and perpendicular crash tests into a barrier in order to assess the integrity of the vehicle structure, airbags, and seatbelts. By having a standardized assortment of tests, regulatory bodies are able to make great apples-to-apples comparisons between vehicles to give out industry awards and inform the public at car dealerships of how each car performs in the safety tests.

Unfortunately, these standard crash tests don’t do a great job of exploring the possibilities of what can happen in real-world collisions. What happens during a collision with another vehicle instead of a barrier? What if the vehicles struck at an angle? How about the offset between the vehicles? What about underride and override situations? Were the speeds of the vehicles lower than or above the standardized test speeds? How would the collision affect an occupant as opposed to a crash test dummy? The context of a collision, or the requirements for our analysis, may very well not be within the scope of these safety specification tests, so additional sources of knowledge are required.

Enter crash testing. In order to fill these knowledge gaps, several organizations crash vehicles together at a variety of impact speeds and angles to study how vehicles behave during and after collisions. The data gathered and analyzed from these crash tests provides us a greater understanding of collision severity, collision duration, crash pulse shape, vehicle stiffness, damage patterns, and many other important parameters to the accident reconstruction process. These crash tests are also used to understand, validate, and study the reliability and limitations of the “black boxes” that we download from cars involved in real collisions.

One of the largest knowledge gaps in research has been for collisions involving two moving vehicles. It’s relatively easy to propel a vehicle into a barrier or another stationary vehicle, but having two vehicles both moving towards the area of impact at a particular angle is a technical challenge. Despite the difficulties, it is a worthy area of study given that most two vehicle collisions involve two moving vehicles. This is why we decided to focus the crash testing for our Crash Conference 3 on intersection collisions; left turning, right turning, and perpendicular collisions where both vehicles are moving and are positioned at varying angles to each other.

Now this isn’t to say that we always need a similar crash test in order to complete a reconstruction, as in many cases we can use our engineering judgment gained from decades of research, continuing education and testing to make supported extrapolations as required. However, having a similar crash test to refer to mitigates the need to extrapolate, and therefore allows us to refine our analysis and improve the certainty and defendability of our opinions. It is this commitment to scientific certainty and further refinement that makes us crash for research!

Interested in attending our upcoming Crash Conference on May 12 in Mississauga? Watch the video below for a sneak peek. For more information and to register online, click here.


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