# Car Crash Physics: Deceleration Calculations

• B
• Jimmy87
In summary, the tool website claims that if you input the weight and speed of a person in a car crash, it will generate a deceleration in meters per second. However, the calculations given are incorrect because the data does not follow the equation. The calculator also claims that the time of the crash is 18ms, which is impossible because there are many factors that affect it.
sophiecentaur said:
That's what I have been saying all along - constant work / force with displacement. This is not the characteristic of a spring, for which the force increases in proportion to displacement.
I don't think the force will be constant anywhere. As the displacement increases, the force MUST increase by design. The closer you get to the vehicle's occupants, the more you want to stop the crumpling. I'm much more inclined to believe the stiffness increases with displacement.

For example, car suspensions are often built with bumper stops like so:

It's a rubber part that increases drastically the stiffness of the suspension before the suspension link hits the car frame to prevent permanent deformation of the parts.

I cannot imagine that a crumpling zone is not built the same way to protect the occupants. Start soft to absorb energy as much as possible, but end hard to prevent crushing the occupants. The former principle wasn't well understood by earlier car designers, only concentrating on the latter.

jack action said:
I cannot imagine that a crumpling zone is not built the same way to protect the occupants. Start soft to absorb energy as much as possible, but end hard to prevent crushing the occupants. The former principle wasn't well understood by earlier car designers, only concentrating on the latter.
I am under the impression that they achieve this with a ‘rigid’ passenger compartment with a crushable front and rear.

Frabjous said:
I am under the impression that they achieve this with a ‘rigid’ passenger compartment with a crushable front and rear.
The front is only crushable to an extent, after a point if there is still significant energy it just sends the engine through the firewall.

My only point is that different materials are continually compressed and brought up to yeild in the impact. As that is happening because of the increase in volume of plastically deformed material the force should tend to grow with displacement...I would think.

erobz said:
The front is only crushable to an extent, after a point if the is still significant energy it just sends the engine through the firewall.
I did not mean to imply that it would be successful at high velocity. If you look at my post 34, we have .624m of compression at 35mph which has to be close to maxing out the available free space of a normal sized vehicle.

erobz said:
increase in volume of plastically deformed material
Plasticity is frequently assumed to be a contant volume process at the material level for metals. In the case of the car crash, the free space is being removed.

Frabjous said:
I am under the impression that they achieve this with a ‘rigid’ passenger compartment with a crushable front and rear.
The "rigid" part has still a defined stiffness, even if it is high. And once the crushable part is half crushed, it is more and more a pile of solid "rigid" parts that has a higher stiffness than all the parts "uncrushed".

Frabjous said:
Plasticity is frequently assumed to be a contant volume process at the material level for metals. In the case of the car crash, the free space is being removed.

This is what I'm saying. If you are plastically deforming the blue pin with some force ##F##, when you make it to the grey pin and still have sufficient energy ##F## is going to increase, and level out as the grey pin yields. At that point you will be deforming both pins plastically. That's what I meant about increasing volume of plastically deformed material as the impact progresses and more material is brough into the crumple zone.

Frabjous
jack action said:
For example, car suspensions are often built with bumper stops like so:
This is a very different design scenario. A suspension is designed to deform elastically with critical damping on a regular basis. Obvs, damage must not occur here and the springlike design is almost universal. I don't think it's relevant to the crash scenario; the owner just has to suck up the idea that his pride and joy will be spoiled after even a minor collision. We expect to walk away from many scary collisions these days.
jack action said:
I cannot imagine that a crumpling zone is not built the same way to protect the occupants. Start soft to absorb energy as much as possible, but end hard to prevent crushing the occupants.
That's more of an opinion about the best design philosophy. There will be a maximum acceptable G on the passengers and the way to avoid getting there has to be to give a rougher treatment for less serious impacts. There is a certain amount of kinetic energy to get rid of and going for less retardation early on will mean even worse forces for higher speed impact. I guess I have had that in mind all the time and you have had the spring model foremost in mind. In real life, there will be a compromise.

The way to deal with this on a personal level is to avoid high speed collisions by never going excessively fast and not being 'competitive' in ones driving. I live in a fairly rural area and seldom do more than 60mph (usually less than 40. It's great to pootle about and you can arrange it so that you are not in a hurry. (Easy for me to say, of course, but it's something to aim at. ).

jbriggs444
The goal of crashworthiness is to absorb as much energy as possible using as little material as possible. A fellow grad student was doing crashworthiness research, and gave me a leftover steel test specimen:

It buckled into a series of rings, while plastically deforming the maximum amount of metal. This was from a high speed test in a test fixture powered by a shotgun shell with a double powder charge. The force to buckle each consecutive ring is near equal to the force to buckle the preceeding ring. This specimen shows near ideal energy absorption because a large portion of the metal is subjected to large plastic strain. While the force cyclically varies as each buckle is formed, the overall force is roughly constant over the entire buckling process.

Contrast the above specimen to the different buckling mode of a beverage can. This particular beverage can was picked up on a walk earlier after being donated by a local litterbug. Only a small portion of the metal was subjected to plastic strain, and most of the plastic strain was smaller magnitude than that in the specimen above. These cans absorb very little energy relative to the amount of material when stomped flat. Car manufacturers try to avoid this mode of buckling.

Side note 1: That same grad student tested a piece of PVC pipe in his test fixture. It shattered like glass, which absorbed very little energy, and destroyed his load cell.

Side note 2: I mentioned this test fixture in an earlier post. It's the one we shot with a rifle to perform a modal analysis.

Last edited:
Frabjous, erobz and berkeman
jrmichler said:
A fellow grad student was doing crashworthiness research, and gave me a leftover steel test specimen:
Does it have a varying thickness or is it some other mechanism? Do you have a before picture?

Straight steel cylinder, 2.5" OD, 0.090" wall, unknown length before the test. He may have machined a slight taper on the bottom edge in order to encourage it to buckle the way he wanted.

Frabjous
jrmichler said:
The goal of crashworthiness is to absorb as much energy as possible using as little material as possible.
There is another consideration for motor cars etc. and that is to limit the maximum G forces on the 'cargo'. That implies more damage than desirable for collisions at lower speeds; there needs to be higher retardation, early on in the collision.
As little material as possible can be a factor, particularly in car design which seems to revolve around Power / Weight Ratio. Some cars (like Volvos) don't worry so much about that.

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