It’s a fact: The bigger the vehicle and the faster it’s going, there more dangerous the crash will be. However, what you might not realize is that not only are high-speed crashes more dangerous but that what you have in your vehicle at the time of the crash can have a significant impact on injuries and damages. Here’s why.
Mass and Acceleration
The damage in a car crash will be determined by two things: mass multiplied by acceleration. The faster a car is traveling and the heavier it is, the more damage it will cause in a collision. To illustrate how this works, let's look at a few examples where we’ve adjusted for unit conversion:
- A pickup truck weighing 3,500lbs is in a crash while traveling at 50 MPH. It would impart 7,950 pounds of force.
- That same truck is traveling 70 MPH and gets in a crash. It would now impart 12,000 pounds of force. That’s a 33% increase in damage!
- Now imagine the pickup truck is fully loaded. It weighs 5,000lbs and is traveling at 50 MPH. In a crash, it would impart 11,300 pounds of force, nearly as much as if it were speeding even though it’s traveling the speed limit.
- Now let’s say our fully loaded truck (5,000lbs) is speeding at 70 MPH. The resulting crash would impart 15,900 pounds of force, far more than any other crash.
Heavier vehicles take more mechanical energy to move, which means vehicles carrying more people or cargo will cause much more serious damage than a crash with a lighter vehicle. This is also why semi-truck accidents are much more likely to cause fatal injuries.
Putting It Into Perspective
Cars are designed to reduce damage from a crash in the front and the rear, folding in on themselves like an accordion. This is called the crumple zone and when it is properly designed, it protects those inside the vehicle from as much as 25% of the force of impact. However, cars are not designed to absorb blows from the sides, meaning the passengers take on much more of the force. This is partially why t-bone accidents tend to be much deadlier, accounting for about 20% of all car crash fatalities, despite accounting for 10% of all car accidents.
The big takeaway is this: The greater the force of impact, the more likely a crash is to cause severe injury. Here are a few of the most important milestones.
- Crashes imparting more than 15,000lbs of force (like our last example) are very likely to cause injuries.
- Crashes with more than 20,000lbs of force are likely to cause fractures and broken bones.
- Crashes imparting 25,000lbs of force are much more likely to cause a fatality.
As a driver, being aware of your speed and vehicle weight is extremely important. Any high-speed driving requires very fast reflex times, especially in heavy traffic.
Likewise, heavier vehicles are less maneuverable and reduce a driver’s ability to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. By keeping this knowledge in the back of your mind any time you get behind the wheel, you can take steps to prevent speeding and maintain control of your vehicle.
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