I need to size bumper beams for the crumple zone of a very lightweight vehicle. Together with the driver, the vehicle will weigh 300kg.

Sizing the beams for a single-vehicle collision against a fixed object is simple. To prevent brain injury, I need to keep the average deceleration under 50 G, so the average crushing force must be no more than ~ 150 kN. Dividing the kinetic energy by the force gives me the needed crush distance.

However, if the vehicle is in a collision with another (heavier) vehicle, I am unclear about when and how the two crumple zones will collapse. Looking at NHTSA crash test data, it seems the crumple zones in most passenger cars are designed for a deceleration of about 15 G against a rigid barrier. For a 1,700-kg car, this would mean an average crushing force of 255 kN.

If my vehicle with beams designed for a crushing force of 150 kN crashes into a vehicle designed with a crushing force of 255 kN, what happens?

a) Assuming my crush zone can absorb all the excess kinetic energy in the collision, what will the deceleration of my vehicle be?

b) Can I rely on the crush zone of the other vehicle absorbing some of the energy before the force on my vehicle over a significant period of time rises above 150 kN? If so, how much?

  • You are probably attempting the impossible here (which is why the regulations call for tests against a fixed barrier). If your lightweight vehicle picks a fight with a 30 ton truck, with a head-on relative velocity of say 120 MPH, you are going to lose, however much design work you do on your beams. – alephzero Nov 5 at 18:34
  • I'm trying to limit to 50 G with a collision of 20 mph for the 300-kg vehicle against 40 mph for the 1700-kg vehicle. Ambitious? Yes. Crazy? Maybe. Impossible? No. – Jeffrey Hood Nov 5 at 18:42
  • Cars have been completely crushed along with the driver between the back of one truck and the front of another... – Solar Mike Nov 5 at 19:02

As per your statement if all the crash energy is absorbed in crash zone, and the two cars fuse together and move along direction of heavy car:

$\alpha = (255-150)kN / (1700 +300) \ 105000 /(2000) \times 9.8 ~ 5m/s, \ \ or \ \ g/2 $

Where alpha is the excessive acceleration above your 50G. So, total G = 50.5

And the big car's crashing zone is going to experience a 14.5 G deceleration.

  • Would the force be 150 kN until my crash zone is consumed and then continue at 255 kN? Or would it oscillate around 50.5 G x 300 kg during the whole period of deceleration/acceleration? – Jeffrey Hood Nov 5 at 20:07
  • @JeffreyHood , We need more data to be able to measure that. We need the speed of the two cars, just as an example if the small car is going twice as fast then the crumple zone would run out before its kinetic energy runs out. – kamran Nov 5 at 20:31
  • "And the big car's crashing zone is going to experience a 14.5 G deceleration." Why? The big car's crumple zone might a different depth from the small car's. Don't you think that might make a difference? – alephzero Nov 5 at 20:41
  • Would you be interested in commenting on an example with more data? 300-kg car going 10 m/s, and 1700-kg car going 20 m/s. Large car available crushing distance: 1.33. Small car crushing available crushing distance: ALTERNATIVE A: 2.367 m. ALTERNATIVE B: 0.1 m – Jeffrey Hood Nov 5 at 21:15

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