By Ken May
In 2002, I was driving my beloved 1986 Corvette when suddenly, the driver of the Camaro to my left suddenly slammed on his brakes. I quickly looked forward only to see that a Mitsubishi Eclipse ran a red light and turned left in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and braced for the inevitable impact. Time slowed down and I immediately thought “my car is going to be damaged”.
I slammed into the passenger side of the car at about 40 miles per hour. The whole front end of my Corvette seemed to explode upon contact. But then, something amazing happened. The car caved in around me keeping me protected in my passenger area. The car actually absorbed the impact of the crash protecting me from being badly injured except for my left knee getting jammed into the bottom of the dash board.
While the paramedic was checking on me while I was still sitting in the car, I told him how the car seemed to protect me and he responded that the car was designed with that purpose in mind. While my Corvette was a total loss, and I ultimately had knee surgery, I essentially walked away from what would have been a fatal crash just a few years before.
When I was a kid back in the early 1960’s, cars were big with huge chrome bumpers. If one of these behemoths hit another behemoth at 50 miles per hour, both cars would suddenly stop while the passengers kept going at 50 miles per hour. And back then, most people didn’t bother wearing the lap belt if one was even provided.
Here is where I go “Big Bang Theory” on you. Cars today have crumple zones which helps transfer some of the kinetic energy into a controlled deformation (or crumpling) at impact. The car will take on more physical damage than the dinosaurs of my youth but personal injury will be reduced. In other words, by crumpling, the car takes longer to come to a stop lowering the force of impact on the passenger which increases the survival space for the belted passenger. That passenger area that I mentioned in my crash is actually called a safety cage. My high school physics teacher, Mr. Thiesen would be so proud!
Other features that improve the safety of the passengers include full seat belts, front and side air bags, head restraints, and an electronic stability control (ESC) system that helps detect when a skid is about to occur and selectively applies brakes to different wheels for driver control. Huh! I picked my car because it was cool and red!
The only complaint I hear about all of these safety features and other features that seem to be introduced on a daily basis is that they add to the cost of the vehicle. The insurance companies also have to pay more to repair or replace vehicles that have been damaged in an accident which is a leading cause of auto insurance rates going up. But when you measure the higher costs against the decrease of injuries and death, I’d rather drive a safer car. And when the decreases of bodily injuries ultimately get factored in over time, auto insurance rates should stabilize.