By on August 21, 2008

Crash tests have shown that contemporary cars are pretty safe at middling speeds. You can hit a wall at 40 mph and walk away with a few bruises. But what happens at higher speeds? German automotive club ADAC crashed a five-star (Euro-NCAP) car at 50 mph and the results were not pretty. The Renault Laguna III is way up there is terms of safety, as good or better than any other passenger car (no Freedom Fries jokes here please, I've driven a Laguna and it's good). In this video, a grey Laguna hits a solid barrier at 40 mph, after which its occupants could exit unharmed (if dummies could walk). Taken to 50 mph, the orange Laguna is close to doing a Dianamobile. The A-beam collapses and the door sill folds. Physics rule; at double the speed, crash energy increases to the square, so even a relatively small increase in velocity can cause havoc. Passengers of the orange Laguna would suffer serious injury, despite being equipped with the works: chest airbags, seatbelt tensioners, and knee airbags. At the tested speed, the crumple zone is used up. Any faster and the car would basically fall apart. ADAC: "Appropriate speed can save your life". Which is not exactly news, but seeing the evidence is more, uh, "visceral" than just knowing the facts.

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22 Comments on “German Crash Tests, Part 3: Crash Slow or Die Hard...”

  • avatar

    IOW – speed kills

  • avatar

    Interesting video, which illustrates the fundamental limits in the design of crumple zones. To absorb the energy of a high speed collision using a short crumple zone, the structure would have to be very rigid and the accelerations transferred to the passengers would be excessively high. Better to design a more compliant structure that’ll at least absorb the energy of slower collisions without hitting the occupants with a sledgehammer.
    There’s a great video (find it on YouTube) of a Smart car slamming into a concrete barrier at high speed. The car is amazingly intact- but there’s no way an occupant would have survived the impact.

  • avatar

    How far do we really want to take these crash tests? I really don’t want to be driving a giant nerf ball. The reality is that people will not survive certain types of crashes. Fortunately, most roads and associated barriers that are rated for these speeds are designed to deflect a vehicle – there are no solid walls to drive directly into.

  • avatar

    These offset tests are valid in the real world, because they are standardized and give the automotive engineers a chance to improve the cars.

    There is no way to absolutely guarantee the safety of anyone in a car, at any speed. Not forgetting that the first automotive casualty (death) occurred some 110 years ago and what we would describe as a walking pace.

    Back in the day before cars, people were regularly killed by having their horses throw them off.

    In short, we simply accept the risk and move on, or we’d be completely parylized and could not leave the house. (Which, ironically, would not make life safe for us anyway since most accidents occur at home!)

  • avatar

    These videos make me want to weld in a full cage, install five-point harnesses, complete with SA2005 helmet and maybe a Hans device…

  • avatar

    Well, the good news for all of America’s uninsured is that if they drive, they HAVE to be insured just about everywhere. Did you break your arm falling off a ladder? Go crash the car, quick!

    I submit that for them, more time in the car is a good thing ;)

  • avatar

    These guys definitely need a TV…

    Have they seen the chinese cars crash tests?

  • avatar

    Fortunately, you usually do get a second to brake and slow down just enough. Not much more you can do…

  • avatar

    I think the irresistible force meeting the immovable object is relatively rare. Most crashes are glancing or with an oncoming vehicle that isn’t bolted to the ground.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Trees are stubborn.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Does anyone have any pictures of the US DOT Research Safety Vehicle? It was a small MR coupe capable of withstanding a 50mph frontal impact, although probably not an offset crash such as the one above. The blurb from Public Citizen:

    Experimental vehicle developed by NHTSA in the 1970s that weighed only 2,450 lbs, achieved 32 miles to the gallon in 1978 and was able to protect its occupants in a full frontal barrier impact at 50 miles per hour (mph) and in side impact and rollover crashes at 40 mph without significant risk of occupant injury. The RSV created by NHTSA was destroyed by the government.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Richard: thanks for the lead; I looked, but I couldn’t find.

  • avatar

    “IOW – speed kills”
    No, crashing kills. Learning how to drive and paying attention minimizes the chances of crashing.

  • avatar

    Very informative wenn du deutsch sprechen kannst.

  • avatar

    I took years of German classes (uh, back in the 1980s) but I think I *might* have understood about five words per sentence.

    The Germans sure love their eleven-syllable compound words. Try saying “Maximum Speed Limit” ten times, quickly, auf Deutsch:


    Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive (55)” probably didn’t translate well over there…

    # autoemployeefornow :
    #August 21st, 2008 at 5:43 pm
    #Very informative wenn du deutsch sprechen kannst.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    ADAC = German AAA

    Spiegel TV = German Dateline

    Renault = French car (?)

    Hmmm…I wonder why they didn’t orchestrate this test w/a German car. I thought ADAC was above petty politics, but perhaps they are following the lead of the German motoring press (which practices unabashed protectionism when it comes to it’s ratings and criques).

  • avatar

    Subtitles would be nice on these vids.

    Despite the A-pillar and door sill damage on the higher speed vehicle, I couldn’t see any obvious reason that the crash was less survivable. Obviously I don’t understand enough German to know if the guy talked about the forces registered by the dummies.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer


    it’s good that you ask — and it’s my job to answer, since I am too lazy to translate the whole audio.

    Yes, the ADAC guy was talking about the dummies. High impact forces were registered for the shinbones, the chest, and the head. In the case of the 40 mph crash, the impact forces were low. At the higher speed, the passenger cell was just about intact but close to collapsing.

    Sammy: actually, the video had a kind of pro-Renault bias because it stressed how the Laguna has the best crash ratings not only of its class, but of any car tested in the Euro-NCAP. They are basically saying: Even with an extremely safe car, crashing at 50 mph is potentially fatal.

    Everybody else: sorry and I understand how frustrating it is to listen to a language you don’t know. We thought the videos were still worth being shown to a wider audience.

    Can anybody recommend a good program for adding subtitles to .flv video?

  • avatar

    Sammy Hagar, Germany occupied France so many times that they are confusing now which thing belongs to whom. Same for England on France. Same for Spain on Italy. Actually, same for everyone for everyone, except Liechtenstein, it’s hard to pronounciate.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Home Run!!!! Paying damned attention would save more lives than ANY safety equipment. I’m stopping there before I get mad.
    You go, kendahl!!!

  • avatar

    “Passengers of the orange Laguna would suffer serious injury, despite being equipped with the works: chest airbags, seatbelt tensioners, and knee airbags. At the tested speed, the crumple zone is used up. Any faster and the car would basically fall apart. ADAC: ‘Appropriate speed can save your life’.”

    So it looks like I’d better keep the speed down on my Model A. To, say, five miles per hour.

  • avatar

    I saw a show where one side was proclaiming how wonderful crumple zones in todays cars were compared to older vehicles. The argument they used went something like this:

    Would you rather be wearing a stack of foam or a brick to protect yourself from a hammer strike on your head.

    While a bit silly, the point they try to make is the foam naturally absorbs the energy while the brick does not. However, if the force exceeds the foam’s capability to compress the hammer does enormous damage to your head.

    While the brick may transfer a lot of energy, it also protects a lot better when forces increase. The hammer is not making through the brick easily.

    The point is we have been convinced the secret to safety is the crumple zone without the asterisk being added that there are limits to the feature.

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