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What Are Crumple Zones and How Do They Work?

Published on Jul 11, 2022 at 10:22 pm in car accidents.

What Are Crumple Zones and How Do They Work

Crumple zones are an important safety design that limit car accident injuries and reduce the number of vehicular fatalities. While a crushed crumple zone might make the aftermath of an accident look especially severe, it is more likely an indication that a vehicle performed as designed.

Drivers and passengers alike are more likely to survive a serious collision with fewer and less severe injuries when their vehicle’s crumple zone functions as intended.

What Is a Crumple Zone?

The crumple zone is the area of a vehicle that is designed to crush or crumple upon impact. Often located in the front of a vehicle, the crumple zone will absorb some of the impact of a crash, protecting the driver and other occupants. Although this does cause more damage to the vehicle, this damage is often a small price to pay in exchange for the preservation of human life.

How Do Crumple Zones Work?

Design and material usage for crumple zones will vary based on manufacturer design as well as vehicle size and weight. Regardless of the exact design and materials, the main goal is to strike a balance when it comes to impact resistance. Manufacturers must find the Goldilocks balance, or the middle point between too little and too much resistance, that is just right. A vehicle with a poorly designed crumple zone could have:

  • Too little resistance. If your car has a crumple zone with too little resistance, it will crush and crumple too easily and in situations when it is not called for.
  • Too much resistance. If your car has a crumple zone with too much resistance, it will not crush and crumple when you are involved in a serious accident.

Whether located in the front or rear of a vehicle, crumple zones are designed to absorb the energy of an accident in a way that is predictable and expected. The predictable way a car crumples serves a very important function.

When a vehicle is traveling at 50 mph and comes to a sudden stop because of a collision, the vehicle’s occupants will continue traveling at 50 mph until they come into contact with something that stops them. We have seen many collision injuries associated with this concept, including head injuries in victims who hit their heads on the dashboard or windows. The crumple zone plays an important role in minimizing and reducing these types of injuries.

A well-designed crumple zone will act as an accordion during a crash. When the crumple zone folds and crumples, it will absorb some of the force of the impact and disperse it away from occupants, often in the form of sound or heat. It will further act as a cushion that effectively slows down the vehicle and makes it take longer to come to a full stop. As the vehicle slows down, so do the passengers inside. This reduces the amount of force exerted on the occupants.

Crumple zones are a smart and effective solution to a problem that vehicle manufacturers have struggled with for some time. It was once believed that the stronger the structure of a vehicle, the better off occupants would be in a collision. Any crumpling or crushing in accidents was seen as a sign of a poor and unsafe design. In reality, cars designed with structures that did not crumple or crush in a collision survived just fine by passing off the force of the impact straight to passengers. The first vehicle with a fully functioning crumple zone was not produced until 1967, when the Mercedes Heckflosse hit the market.

At Stapp Law, PLLC, we believe it is better to have to repair or buy a new car than it is to suffer serious injuries that could have been minimized or prevented altogether by safe design.

What Materials Are Crumple Zones Made Of?

Automakers are tasked with the difficult job of using materials that will promote crumpling in an accident but that will also be strong enough to stand up to regular daily use. Specially engineered materials, plastic, and plastic composite materials are the most commonly used materials in crumple zones.

Plastic plays an overall significant role in vehicle design and manufacturing, making up around half of the average vehicle’s volume while only contributing to 10% of its weight. Lightweight materials are ideal for creating crumple zones that absorb collision impacts.

Crumple Zone Testing

Both the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) perform independent, third-party testing that measures a number of safety standards on vehicles.

Frontal crash tests in particular are designed to observe how a vehicle performs when it is involved in front-end collisions. Since this is where most crumple zones are located, these tests can accurately measure how effective a crumple zone will be at protecting vehicle occupants in the event of a serious crash.

Both NHTSA and IIHS award their own vehicle safety ratings that may differ from one another. When in the market for a new vehicle, be sure to check safety ratings from both agencies before coming to a final decision. You can also check NHTSA’s website for safety issues and recalls that may pertain to the crumple zone or other components of a vehicle you are considering purchasing.

Limiting Your Risk for Car Accident Injuries

Drivers should not rely on crumple zones alone to help them survive an accident. You can create added layers of protection for yourself and others by:

  • Always wearing your seat belt
  • Following the posted speed limit
  • Practicing defensive driving

Unfortunately, you could do everything right and still suffer serious injuries in a car accident. If another driver’s negligent or reckless actions caused your accident, you could be entitled to compensation for things like your medical bills, auto repairs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

Pennsylvania state law limits your ability to file a personal injury lawsuit to within two years from the date of your accident. While it might feel like you have plenty of time, it will pass much quicker than you realize. During that time, medical bills will be piling up, and you’ll still be waiting on the help you deserve. Don’t let this happen to you. Contact our offices to schedule a confidential case evaluation with Stapp Law, LLC today.

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