Just about all of the passenger vehicles on the road in New Jersey and around the country have been designed to deform in an accident to protect their occupants. Engineers call the parts of a car that collapses during a collision crumple zones, and they are one of a modern automobile’s most important safety features. Most manufacturers add a further layer of safety by enclosing drivers and passengers in a rigid safety cell.
The physics of crumple zones
Crumple zones protect vehicle occupants by making vehicles stop a little more slowly when they strike objects like trees, lamp posts or other cars. They also absorb some of the forces created by a collision. A vehicle produced before crumple zones were introduced would stop sharply in an accident, but the people inside it would continue to move very quickly toward the dashboard and windshield. Cars with crumple zones sustain far more damage in a collision, but the people traveling in them are much less likely to be killed or file personal injury lawsuits.
Mercedes-Benz unveiled the first cars to feature crumple zones in the early 1950s, which is something the company still mentions prominently on its website and in its marketing materials. However, the German carmaker does not deserve all of the credit. This is because the Hungarian engineer who invented the crumple zone came up with the idea in 1937, which was before he even worked for the Mercedes-Benz.
A coordinated approach to safety
Crumple zones reduce the severity of collisions and protect vehicle occupants. Auto manufacturers today take a coordinated approach to safety that incorporates anti-lock brakes, airbags, seat belt pretensioners and semiautonomous features like adaptive cruise control and emergency braking systems as well as crumple zones. Mercedes-Benz introduced the first passenger cars with crumple zones in the 1950s, and now virtually every carmaker uses the technology.