Most of us could tell some remarkable stories of people surviving some terrifying crashes and walking away, thanks to a spot of intervention either from the hand of God, the engineering skill and nous from the maestros who design cars, or both. In a high-speed car crash, you need all the help you can get.
Car designers and engineers naturally try to make their models as safe as possible. Ever since the first death caused by a car crash (Mary Ward, in Ireland 1869), 20 million people have lost their lives in car crashes, designers have been driven by the need to reduce deaths. Crash testing is an important way of testing how safe a car is in a crash.
Crash testing involves smashing a car into a solid block at various speeds to see what damage is done to the car and to the occupants. Crash tests require these cars to be launched into the solid barrier at various angles and speeds to simulate different types of crashes.
Several standards of crash testing are in existence, the most common being the NCAP and ANCAP crash tests. Our links page can take you to a site where independent results of crash testing for many makes and models can be seen.
Wayne State University in Detroit was the first organisation to begin serious work on collecting data that would shed light on the extent of damage a high speed collision has on the human body. These earliest crash tests used human cadavers (dead bodies) to see where the crushing and tearing limits for human bodies would be – a step up from Victorian doctors predicting that people would asphyxiate when a vehicle reached 60 mph purely from theory.
However, ethical issues soon made cadaver testing almost impossible. Crash testing before the development of the crash test dummy tried using animals (whether they were dead or alive is uncertain) and, in one low-speed case, some very brave live humans. These early crash tests soon led to the development of the seatbelt and the collapsible steering column.
Currently, crash testing using cadavers is accepted on the grounds that (i) dead people feel no pain; (ii) many lives can be saved by crash testing. Cadaver crash testing has led to the creation of the crash test dummy. A crash test dummy is a full-scale replica of a human being that is used as a simulator of what happens to a human body inside a car crash. However, cadavers are still used in crash testing and are excellent for studying soft tissue damage that can be caused in a car crash. As one example, the Renault Megane used cadavers in crash testing and became the first small car to earn the full five stars from Euro NCAP.
We hope that helps answer the question ‘What is What is Crash Testing?’!
Back to Car Glossary