By on July 25, 2011

If you don’t speak German, you can go ahead and skip to 1:30, where the magic happens. Essentially, the German safety nuts at the ADAC and DEKRA have been trying to scare motorists silly for some time now, shaming automakers and educating motorists about the dangers they face every day. The latest terror: a semi truck plowing into you from behind at about 43 MPH. The results? Well, they speak for themselves. The reason? Illustrating the need for Emergency Brake Assist in large trucks, which the ADAC argues should be mandatory for all trucks [per Autobild]. Though this does seem to be something of a case of legislating against stupidity, the ADAC certainly make a vivid argument for their cause…

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52 Comments on “That’s Not A Crash Test, This Is A Crash Test...”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I’d like to see the same test with a Suburban and an Excursion in place of the cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt there would be much more left of the cockpits — look how the front car got flipped up, no A-pillar will protect against that force.

    • 0 avatar
      Joshua Johnson

      I’m surprised no one has brought up this horrific accident yet:

      Apparently the spec on the front of the semi is an F-250.

    • 0 avatar

      Having seen what happens when a semi-trailer looses control, crosses an Interstate median, and slams into a full-size pickup head-on, uh, no you don’t. The results were not significantly different. The engine block of the pickup ended up a couple hundred yards down the highway. Chunky salsa is a pretty good description of the trucks occupants too.

      They never knew what hit them, I was one car behind the truck when it happenned, managed to stop with the nose of my Saab about 3′ from the side of the trailer, and dove down into the passenger seat expecting someone to shove me under the trailer from behind.

      Full size trucks and SUVs are only safer when hitting something SMALLER than they are. 80K lb semi at 50mph might as well be a block of solid concrete.

      And note that the truck in the video is TINY by American standards.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d like to see how S-classes would hold up.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Pfft! You call THAT a semi truck? THIS is a semi . . .

  • avatar

    Ich bin auslander und spraeche nicht gut Deutsch, aber wie alt ist das Renault Megane? Es sieht sehr alt und nicht bis zur aktuellen Euro-NCAP-Standards.

    • 0 avatar

      Plus eine

    • 0 avatar

      You just cannot hide behind the auto standards for automobiles. Even if the Renault was newer, they would not have prevented the terrible death of these crash test dummies.

      Der Euro-NCAP-Standards is nicht genug.

    • 0 avatar

      Das ist ein Megane I, 1995-2002. vier sterne.

      However i really doubt it matters much what car you are in if you are smashed between two semis..

      • 0 avatar

        Auf English, bitte schoen. Super toll, danke.

        I think they’d be a little less dead if they were in a new five star car versus a car that was designed in the early 90’s. The roof structure certainly wouldn’t have pancaked so readily. I hope we’re losing external visibility and glass area for something.

        Also, wouldn’t it be better for the ADAC and DEKRA to be able to show a brandy-new car with the highest crash test ratings get smished like a soaked earplug? Auto translate on: “You see, this is the highest ranked modern automobile ranked for occupant safety and the occupants still die a fiery, bonecrushing death. We need Emergency Brake Assist in our heavy goods vehicles now.”

      • 0 avatar

        In rare cases, some symptoms of death may occur.

        Testing with for example a new S-class would be more interesting, i agree. Though what i would actually like to see is the same test, only instead of the Megane I there would be a Tiger II. And more speed.

  • avatar

    So if you’re going to get rear-ended by a much larger vehicle, try not to have your front bumper resting on an immovable wall?

    I was in a rented Pontiac Grand Prix and stuck in standing traffic on the freeway when I got rear-ended by a catering truck going 35 mph. There were jalepanos all over the road… but the forces on my car were reduced a great deal by the fact that I hit cars in front of me which all absormed some of the impact and were able to move. The rear bumper was essentially against the rear bulkhead and the front bumper was pushed in about a foot but I walked away from the accident, albeit quite sore.

    I doubt any kind of brake assist would have helped since the driver of the truck didn’t brake until she was much too close to me to do any good. She didn’t have a driver’s license, either.

    Anyway, videos like this scare the crap out of people but don’t really represent real-world accidents… though I suppose getting sandwiched between two semi trucks would produce similar results I can’t imagine that happens often. In the real world of chasing diminishing returns on our safety spending, are accidents involving heavy trucks who don’t touch their brakes before plowing into passenger cars really a common issue?

    • 0 avatar

      Except, when you are stopped behind a big tractor trailer, and a moving van from the Bronx peels out into your lane doing 50 trying to get into that “lane that is still moving.” Pretty realistic, just needs those metal protruding bumpers on the trailer decapitating the front occupants in the car.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    The circumstances in that video – in which a truck slams full speed into a car which is then sandwiched against an immovable object – ought to be exceedingly rare in reality. Getting sandwiched between two transport trucks is conceivable, but even that isn’t common, and it’s hard to think of a situation where the proposed solution (brake assist) would make much difference. It’s rare for a traffic situation to arise where a truck driving full speed comes up behind traffic at a dead stop without the driver (who has a good, high view of what’s coming – much better than in any car) seeing what’s happening well in advance. In icy winter conditions, sure, it could happen, but brake assist isn’t going to help a jackknife situation.

    The green car was actually doing somewhat okay until it started getting into the immovable structure.

    Biggest problem with trucks versus cars generally isn’t the truck drivers doing something wrong … it’s the car drivers doing something wrong. The truck doesn’t need brake assist. The cars need “don’t do this stupid move” assist.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps in the US these circumstances are very rare, in Belgium they are certainly not!
      We have one highway (E313) where such accidents sometimes happen weekly.
      Beginning of July we had a very bad week: 2 times a truck slammed into a traffic jam at full speed.
      Both times killing the drivers of the cars in front of them.
      Some links (in Dutch):

    • 0 avatar

      My father-in-law was seriously injured in an accident many years ago (long before I met my wife) where a semi-truck rear-ended him and pushed his minivan under a stationary dump truck. Happened here in Virginia; He was last in line behind the dump truck in a traffic jam on the shoulder of I-95 in line for an exit ramp. The semi-truck driver was asleep.

      The only thing that saved his life was the fact that the seat back hinge broke and he laid down flat before his van was shoved under the dump truck. He eventually walked again but still qualifies for permanent handicap plates.

      I don’t think brake assist such as Mercedes introduced some years ago that can stop the car to prevent it from hitting a vehicle ahead is such a bad idea for trucks, but there will definitely be problems with the implementation. Trucks are inherently integrated with the braking systems of their trailers, but at least in the US trailers are seldom owned/operated by the same people who own/operate the truck. Loads vary, trailer construction varies, and the software that controls the emergency braking operation will never be able to adequately compensate for all the variables. At the very least a system could start to scrub off speed and at least alert the driver of the need for possibly further brake application, but I doubt it will ever work as well as it does in the big MBs.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not arguing for or against the technology but to imply that truck drivers are near paragons of virtue who rarely make mistakes is just too far from the truth to allow to pass.

      Just recently on our #1 highway I was mooching along at the speed limit in the right hand lane and I saw a semi closing up on me from behind. Bit by bit I realised he hadn’t seen me. When he was about 20 feet from hitting me I threw my van onto the shoulder to avoid being crushed. Simultaneously the driver must have woken up and he threw his truck to the left. He barely kept it out of the central ditch and the wild look on his eyes told me that I was bloody lucky to have avoided a major mangling.

      A one-off, rare occurence? Maybe not. Not too long ago and not far from the above locale a cement truck just drove over a minivan stationery at a stop sign. Shoved the van over 100 metres and killed the whole family inside.

      Also, the son of a friend of mine just lost his driving job for flipping his tanker truck on an on-ramp.

      So, please don’t tell me truck drivers are somehow better than everyone else. Plus they are basically forced to keep driving under extreme conditions and when too tired and when most sensible people would take a break.

  • avatar

    No problem, no problem at all. That’ll buff out. Ya, I can get some cutting compound and fix that.

  • avatar

    That. Was. Awesome!

  • avatar
    Corky Boyd

    Looks like a bit of nationalistic pride using a French made Renault and a Japanese Mitsibushi for the crush test. And even the word crush doesn’t aptly describe what happened to these weenie wagons.

    Leave it to the Germans to put the French in their place.

  • avatar

    Yeah, this would only be useful if the emergency brake activation worked in very inclement weather dense fog or snow where the driver of the truck was going much too quickly for the conditions.

    Of course if it were snowy/icy then the brake assist won’t be doing much of anything to slow the trucks.

    I’m actually amazed there aren’t more accidents on the road – I mean there are traffic deaths but it seems like a very small % based on the miles driven and the number of drivers.

    I think the cost to fit the safety device doesn’t outweigh the social benefit. Does anyone know what the American NHTSB uses as the estimated “cost per life” when determining whether or not safety devices will affect enough lives to make the change worthwhile?

    For example, the 3rd brake light seemed like a silly requirement until they realized that the frequency of at-stop rear-end collisions could be severely mitigated with about $5 worth of parts from the automaker.

    • 0 avatar


      you said “I’m actually amazed there aren’t more accidents on the road – I mean there are traffic deaths but it seems like a very small % based on the miles driven and the number of drivers. ”

      In one way I fully agree with you. When you see all the poor driving going on it really is amazing how few crashes there are.

      That said, since moving to Alberta from UK 20 years ago I have been appalled at the number of crashes I have witnessed first hand and seen almost daily reports of.

      Here there are about 3 million people in a vast space, back in UK 65 million in a tiny space. Back there I was a “professional driver” running up over 100,000 miles per year, here I am a “recreational driver” rarely going over 15,000 miles per year.

      In UK I drove for about 18 years and only witnessed 2 crashes (I refuse to call them “accidents” because most times somebody is doing something stupid to cause them) but in 20 years here in Canada I have seen at least 7.

      Of course my experience is not statistically representative of anything and may well be an anomoly but it is stunning to me to be here in so much space and find people are busy crashing into each other almost like it’s a hobby or something.

  • avatar

    Seeing as so much of regulations are ostensibly about “accounting for externalities”, it makes sense to require larger vehicles to spend more on potentially accident avoidance and consequence minimization than smaller cars.

  • avatar

    The problem with crumple zones is as soon as you run out of zone you’re screwed. if the energy isn’t absorbed there isn’t anything left to resist it. Soft objects like people get hurt.

    The crumple zone was pioneered by M-B and works great on a larger vehicle. I think smaller cars that crinkle on impact are engineered to be death traps.

    • 0 avatar

      Large vehicles are safe, to a a point. In this case, crumple zones or not, any car is going to get compressed like an accordion, be it a Smart or a Suburban.

      This is why the perennial “Big car crush small car” silliness is just that—silly—and why this is an argument for collision mitigation systems like automated braking. There’s always a bigger car on the road, and often one with more kinetic energy. Even a Smart travelling at 140km/h (which is possible!) will seriously inconvenience a Suburban.

      Recall that it’s F=ma. People think about the m, but forget that a also matters.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly. I’ve always said that what you’re driving makes no difference if you meet an 18-wheeler – even if what you’re driving is another 18-wheeler.

        And a concrete bridge abutment trumps everything.

  • avatar

    “Though this does seem to be something of a case of legislating against stupidity”

    I don’t see a problem with this. Being a Torontonian and spending lots of time on our busy 400 series highways, I can see where this would be benificial.

    The sad truth is that is a lot of “stupidity”, I have personally seen many fully loaded Semi Trucks about 1 car length behind a little tiny car (on my way to work today even!). In that situation, I wonder 2 things:

    1. I wonder what the delta in braking distance is between that sedand and that loaded semi?

    2. Why is this “trained professional” completely unaware of the discrepancy between the braking distance of his Rig and the 3 series in front of him?

    PS. If this system is designed right, it should brake waay early and allow only certain minimum distances between the truck and other vehicles based on the speed travelled and some assumed average braking distance for all other vehicles on the road. If it can do this, lets stick em on all trucks!

    • 0 avatar
      Alex French

      I’m not sure what sort of situation you’re imagining, but on a busy highway, people will pull into any space available. If you’re a semi driver and you leave adequate room in front of you, it will just get filled by other cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Not imagining anything. I’ve seen it. We’re not talking grid lock level traffic where everyone is fighting for a spot. This is a plain (and recurring) case of tailgaiting.

        Trucks in Ontario are governed at 105. Old lady doing 100 in the right lane, 110+ in the middle lane. What does the nice trucker do? He can’t pass. So he rides the bumper…It’s not uncommon to see these guys lock up the trailer wheels when traffic slows down. Completely avoidable, but maybe he was texting.

        My point is the stupidity exists. Last time I checked, there wasnt a stringent aptitude test to become a truck driver. Large vehicles, large consequences.

    • 0 avatar

      You have a point that people drive badly, even pro drivers, but …

      If all trucks had adaptive cruise control and left nice long gaps in traffic, then when people cut in front of them, the trucks would be forced to brake and drive slower … and slower … and slower … and traffic might get a lot worse.

      Also, you are correct in that the braking distance is smaller for a car, but … the truck driver can see the traffic ahead far better than a car’s driver, due to height. What are the chances that the driver directly in front of the truck will suddenly slam on his brakes at full force, independent of all the other cars on the road? It could happen, but the chance is very low. So the truck driver doesn’t base his driving on that chance.

      I agree that tailgating is bad … but bumper to bumper traffic is a complicated situation.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Does Germany require ABS in tractor-trailer combinations, or in large trucks generally?

    It would seem more important to have that first, than to have “brake assist” which strikes me as a pretty minor “assist.” Watching a semi make a panic stop is a panic in itself, because keeping the semi more or less under control requires an optimum balance between the trailer brakes and the brakes in the tractor. A tandem combination even more so.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure someone will correct me, but I think ABS has been required on heavy trucks and busses in Europe for some time, and vehicles so equipped are allowed to travel at higher speeds. I can remember seeing placards on the back of trucks and busses with ABS showing that and the speed they are allowed.

  • avatar

    The purpose of this film was to demonstrate a need for making computerized braking systems standard on trucks. Picking at the scenario due to setting, cars used, fixed walls – etc, doesn’t address the issue at all.

    Would it be best if there was a way to prevent these kinds of accidents? Yes.

    Would it be worth the cost of ensuring that today’s highway trucks include computerized brakes as standard equipment? Yes.

    There ya go.

  • avatar

    That was crazy. Ill jump out of my car if I see that thing coming from behind.

  • avatar

    The older I get, the more it seems like most laws are “legislating against stupidity.”

  • avatar

    It should be noted that the truck was only going 50 kph (31 mph), not full highway speed! It’s also only a 5.5 metric ton (6 Amurican ton) truck. Yes, that stationary barrier in front was a bit unrealitically severe. However, USA semi trucks are up to 40 tons (80 in some states) and going way faster than 31 mph. This was a light-duty test by comparison. The point that whether the car is a Smart or a Suburban, the result would be the same, is exactly the point! Any defence has to come from the truck side of the equation.

  • avatar

    Looks like scare campaign to me for three reasons:

    1. The accident simulated here is very rare as the involvement of immovable objects are not common is rear end collisions.

    2. If they are campaigning for tougher break regulation on trucks they should have repeated the experiment with a truck that meets their proposed standards. Chances are, it would still be horrific.

    3. The structural integrity of passenger vehicles will never be able to withstand this type of accident not would it be feasibly to even try. The momentum of a moving semi at 40 MPH are simply too great.

    This is like promoting stronger roof standards by dropping a 10 tonne rock on a city car. It looks scary but is ultimately short on any meaningful insight into automotive safety.

    • 0 avatar

      You make the cars stand up to the impact with an awful lot of steel, making the fuel efficiency terrible. But the people inside would still be killed when the car ricocheted off the truck like a pinball.

    • 0 avatar

      Amazing! Ric Romero is now working for the ADAC. Who’d have thought!
      As a workaround I’d recommend to drive tractor-trailers only, even at short-distances, and to leave a decent distance to the cars ahead. As long as you haven’t loaded explosives or other dangerous goods you might be on the safe side. Be warned, however, that this workaround fails in case you fall asleep yourself and run into another truck.
      Call your local representative for updated regulations.

    • 0 avatar

      For all intents and purposes, a stopped 80,000lb semi-trailer IS an immovable object when hit by a 4000lb car. The truck driver would hardly feel it. That is what this test was simulating. Aside from the accident I wrote of above, I have seen the results of an inattentive driver hitting the back of a stopped trailer on the side of the road – also not pretty, and I am quite confident that the truck might have been moved a whole foot by the impact. Which quite neatly cubed the car into a little ball, even without the help of getting hit again from behind.

      This is why I personally do not put a whole lot of faith in the “passive safety” make-the-car-a-tank school of design – there is always something a LOT bigger than you on the highway. Pay attention and don’t crash in the first place.

      As to the worth of fitting ABS to trucks – anything that reduces the speed of impact is worthwhile. Also giving the truck driver more ability to control that 80,000lb rig and possibly being able to avoid hitting you is a GOOD THING too.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. You do have to wonder who makes the ‘brake assist’ equipment, and how much lobbying they paid for…

  • avatar

    Interesting that the green car was seriously deformed even before the impact with the red car. I don’t think rear-seat passengers would have survived that, even without a pile-up.

  • avatar

    So the Germans don’t have their own terms for crash test?

  • avatar

    Clearly 90’s european cars are no where close to as robust as late 70’s US cars if BHC is to be believed

  • avatar

    Fascinating. Reminds me a lot of the horrifying crash test images of his ’89 Vauxhall Nova that had my Dad rushing off to the dealerships in the early 90s… hardly surprising really since the Megane used in the test is a 1988 design (the Megane I being a light reskin of the old Renault 19).

    In my experience cars this old have almost all been crushed long-since by more conventional measures in a scrap yard. Here in Edinburgh it’s unusual to see many cars older than 10-12 years still on the road unless it’s a “classic” (or something someone hopes will one day be a classic…)

    What would have been really interesting would have been a comparison video showing the results of an identical test with a couple of c.1998 designs and then a couple of c.2008 designs… kind of an evolution of crash protection?

  • avatar

    To my mind, several things are wrong with this crash test:
    – old cars, from before the time of boron-steels and the like, as well as competent rear crush-zone design;
    – fixed and rigid barrier that is non-deformable, non-rotatable, non-translatable, any of which is, let-alone all of which are, not a good representation of the real world;
    – old truck which may not be good representation of current truck crush features.

    As to the purpose, to require pre-warn and active braking systems on the big rigs, I applaud the intent.

    Systems that trigger moderate braking to adjust the front-gap, and hard-braking to prevent rapid closure and collision would save lives, and when added to the cost of a modern truck represent a mere pittance.

    Design-wise, it would be relatively simple to overlay these feature onto the existing hardware in the heavy-vehicles’s ABS/ESP systems with some additional hardware (mostly distance sensing-unit) and adaption of the controls to reflect the reality a heavy truck’s operative envelope (namely cars scooting in and out and across the front of the heavy’s path).

    One additional feature would have to be signs on the rear, which warn following vehicles to “Back-Off”, such that if emergency braking was triggered by an event in front of the truck, that this would not result in inducing a rear-end collision or “ride-under”.

    Overall, such a system could prevent crashes, and all the related costs (death, injury, scrappage, repair, time-out-of-service, rescue and evacuation costs, secondary-accidents within the jam behind the initial accident, and time-loss due to sitting in a traffic jam caused by some accident at the front of the jam.)

    Given the repeating reality of accidents on motorways, I’m all for this kind of technology. And contrary to the dreams of the folks in the motoring community (which say seemingly arrogant and silly things like: “legislating against stupidity” to marginalize the idea, or promote some laissz faire idea of a motorist’s, or passenger’s, responsibilities) which given reality, do nothing to address the roulette-players chance of being involved in such an accident. Investigating the mandatory installation of such systems, and (if justified by a proper CBA) spreading the costs of prevention amongst all of us is a superior alternative to similarly spreading the costs of an accident.

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