Mercedes is galavanting through California with her lovely wife, Sheryl, meaning I have the pleasure of making fun o—I mean, bestowing upon some of you the honor of “Comment of the Day.” Today’s COTD winners (yes, plural today) have questions about the physics of crash testing, but they also suggest some advice that you absolutely, positively should ignore. Read this; actually, don’t.
Welcome back to Comment Of The Day! Every day, we read every single comment posted on our site and pick the one that made us laugh, get informed, or feel warm inside. You don’t have to go into our comments sections and write thousand-word stories about why you love a car so much, but a lot of you do, and that means a lot to us. So we’re highlighting some of the most excellent bits of thought that you’ve formed into words and digitized onto our website.
Anyway, I shouldn’t be writing this post, because my garage just flooded due to a burst pipe, and all my tools/car parts are actively freezing to the garage floor. In truth, I’m not that worried, because I’m certain that, so long as I can crack the ice into small enough pieces, those pieces should lift right up off the garage floor given that the concrete is completely saturated with oil. That ice won’t be sticking on there very well. Still, I’d rather not have to use a hammer and pick to pack for my move to LA, so I really ought to pick those tools up, like, right now.
But Comment of the Day ain’t gonna write itself (well, it is, but the article about the comment of the day won’t), so let’s give some love to — or, in this case, let’s poke some fun at — readers hugh crawford and BolognaBurrito, who, upon seeing how strenuous the IIHS’s Small Overlap Rigid Barrier (SORB) test — which involves the very outer 25 percent of the vehicle’s front end hitting a rigid barrier, thus replicating a crash between two vehicles driving towards one another but only just hitting one another — asked themselves: Would it be better to just hit a car straight on?
So does this mean that you should not try to avoid a crash, since doing so could put you in a small overlap crash situation, and instead just lean into it and go full-frontal? This idea is, of course, absolutely ridiculous — so much so that I figured I’d share these comments with you:
hugh crawford acknowledges the ridiculous nature of this question with “That also seems like the definition of a perverse incentive,” and that’s true. Avoiding a crash is obviously the best answer. But what if trying to avoid a crash results in stresses to your car that put occupants in more danger than if the driver hadn’t tried avoiding the crash? I mean “stresses the car” not just by focusing crash energy on a smaller area (stress equals force over area, after all, and in this case we’re talking about 25 percent of the frontal area), but — it’s also worth considering — by possibly rotating the vehicle and inducing a side collision or rollover instead of a frontal collision. (This is why automakers tend to build understeer into cars — so that they crash facing their tree or car or whatever, since the nose of the car is best designed for an impact). And then there’s risk to your surroundings — are there pedestrians or other vehicles that are potentially in your crash-avoidance path?
At the same time, leaning into a crash instead of trying to avoid it — for example, hitting an object perpendicularly — can transmit more of your kinetic energy into material destruction than if you hit it at an angle, as some of that entry energy could remain and/or convert to rotational energy (you can see how in some small overlap crash tests, the vehicle continues moving after the test).
I think the answer is: You’re probably not going to have time to make a choice, anyway. IIHS’s small overlap test does imply that hitting another car or a rigid barrier with just 25 percent of your car is more strenuous than hitting those objects with 50 percent of your car’s front end or, it follows, with its entire front end. But none of these is better than zero percent of your front end, and that’s likely what you’re instinctively going to reach for; hopefully your car’s stability control can keep you under control during such a swerve.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to more discussion on this in the comments.