Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up

Crashing cars is one of our specialties. Our status as one of the world’s few ISO approved roadside hardware test facilities means we regularly conduct controlled impact tests on cars and trucks. So when Nigel Latta and the team at Razor Films wanted to create a world first head-on collision they asked if we could help. As firm believers in scientific endeavour and answering previously unanswered questions we jumped at the chance. The ultimate question – what is safer for you and your family in a head-on collision - an old, heavy station wagon or a modern, lightweight hatchback with a 5 star safety rating?  To find out we crashed supermarket trolleys, gave jelly brains concussion and finally crashed the two cars into each other at 64km/h. Want to know the result? Check out the videos below, or keep on reading.

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up is a TV show dedicated to answering tricky, real world, science problems. In this case the team wanted to find out what is safer for you and your family in a head-on collision - a big, heavy old 1995 station wagon or a small, lightweight 5 star safety rated 2013 hatchback?  The only way to find out for real was to create a head on collision and measure the results. Knowing of our reputation as “experts in full scale dynamic impact testing” Nigel and the team came to us for help.

We are big believers in the benefits of prototyping. So before we could get into the real thing, it was decided to do some pilot testing in our laboratory using supermarket shopping trolleys, egg cartons and jelly. The supermarket trolleys were used to simulate the cars, egg cartons were effective crumple zones and jelly moulds represented a passenger’s brain. To account for the difference in mass, weights were added to one of the trolleys to approximate the station wagon, while the egg carton crumple zone was attached to the lighter trolley. The results were stark. Even with the most rudimentary of crumple zones the benefits of energy absorption were clearly evident. Nevertheless, the increased mass of the station-wagon-trolley meant that the lighter trolley still took a significant impact. The concept had been proven – but what would happen on crash day?

The full scale dynamic impact test was conducted at our ISO accredited roadside hardware test facility; as one of only six in the world, it was ideally suited for the task of crashing a 1500kg station wagon into a 1000kg hatchback in a safe, controlled environment. To ensure a successful collision we used a bespoke tow cable configuration that would accelerate the cars at the same rate, then release at the right moment to allow the cars to be rolling under their own momentum at the point of collision. To reach the target ANCAP test speed of 65 km/hr, a 4 tonne concrete block was dropped from a height of 24m to accelerate the cars. To record the crash we used 14 cameras at various angles at frame rates up to 5000 frames per second.

The results were spectacular!

The system worked flawlessly and the cars impacted perfectly head-on.  All those present agreed they would rather not be in either car.  However on review of the data, high speed video and inspection of the passenger compartments, we had a clear winner. The 5 star safety rated hatchback was clearly the safer place for you and your family. The benefits of modern safety features such as crumple zones and airbags meant that the accelerations on the occupants were much less severe. Furthermore, unlike the hatchback, the engine of the station wagon intruded on the occupant compartment such that the front seat passengers would have sustained significant leg injuries. All in all it was a victory for the pursuit of science, modern cars and clever engineering.

CEO Chris Allington working through the crash data with Nigel Latta

For the full episode and others from the Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up series, go to  

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