January 5, 2013

Resources for this posting were taken from   “Machine Design”, April 2012.

There should be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that automobile safety has improved dramatically over the past two decades.    Even with that being the case, the state of Tennessee recorded over one thousand deaths in 2012.  Admittedly, some of those fatalities were motorcycle deaths and not deaths caused while driving an automobile.  I would love to know how many were “driver error”, DUI, falling asleep at the wheel, texting, talking on cell phones, etc etc.  I suspect most deaths were caused by errors of this nature and not mechanical failure of the vehicle itself.   Major efforts have been expended to improve the crash-worthiness of automobiles even during high-speed situations.

From 1990 to 2012, regulations governing vehicle crashworthiness increased dramatically.  At the same time, the Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)   and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) introduced more crash tests than any other time in history.

Also, during this period of time, The Department of Energy introduced a program that clearly threatened steel’s role in cars and trucks.    The project, called Partnership for a New Generation of vehicles (PNGV), made research money available to develop technologies for lightweight fuel-efficient     vehicles.  This program stressed low- density materials such as carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum.  No funding went into researching light-weight and stronger steels.  With this being the case, it became necessary to make much-needed improvements in the ability of an automobile to withstand impact.  The list below will highlight a decade of new crash tests required by “Detroit” and other manufacturers selling into the United States.

  • 1990—FMVSS 214: Side-Impact Test.  A vehicle is struck by a standard deformable barrier moving at 33.5 mph hitting a rigid barrier.
  •  1991—FMVSS 208: 30-MPH Front-Impact Test.  The vehicle moves at 30 MPH hitting a rigid barrier.
  •  1994—FMVSS 216, 1.5 x GVW:  The vehicle’s roof is subject to an inclined plane load equal to 1.5 times the gross vehicle weight (GVW). Roof deflection must be less than a prescribed level.
  •  1995—IIHS, 38.5-mph Side-Impact Test:  The vehicle I sled mounted and traveling 40 mph, running into a barrier thereby striking it with 40% of the front end of the vehicle.
  •  2000—FMVSS, 38.5 mph Side-Impact Test:  This test simulates an intersection collision.  The vehicle is struck in the side by deformable barrier moving at 38.5 mph.
  • 2003—FMVSS, 35 mph Front:  A sled-mounted vehicle runs into a rigid barrier at 35 mph.
  • FMVSS 301, 50 mph 50% Offset:  Like the IIHS 40% offset, but at 50 mph and the offset is 50%.
  • 2006—FMVSS 301, 55 mph 70 % Offset:  A more severe test than above with 55 mph impact speed with vehicle striking a barrier with 70 % of its frontal area.
  • IIHS, Side Impact:  This test simulated being hit from the side by a tall vehicle like and SUV.  The tested vehicle is hit from the side by a deformable barrier traveling at 31.1 mph.
  • 2009– IIHS, Roof Strength 4 x GVW:  The vehicle has an inclined plane pressed into it roof with a load equal to four times gross-vehicle weight.  Both sides of the vehicle are tested.  This test measures roof strength in a roll over.
  • 2012—FMVSS, Roof Strength 3 x GVW:  A federal version of the same roof test given above, but tested to three times gross-vehicle weight.

As you can see, the “FED” and the IIHS are very interested in the protection given during impacts by moving vehicles and stationary objects struck by moving vehicles.  Safety belts and airbags seem to be the methods of choice for protecting the occupants of an automobile along with the worthiness of the automobile structure itself.  I wonder how many more lives would be lost were it not for these added safety features.  Something to think about.

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