You are on page 1of 2

Physics of a Car Crash (Against a Wall)

Rahil has just come out of a party with his best friend Ali. Excited, they both
get into Rahils car. Straight away Rahil jams his key into the ignition of his
soft-top Lamborghini Gallardo, and starts it. Once the car is started, Rahil
leaves the parking area, and starts driving immediately, and only Ali who is
sitting beside Rahil in the front passenger seat buckles his seatbelt. Little did
he know, he was going to regret it very, very soon. Anyway, Rahil then steps
abruptly on the accelerator, and the car begins to move, accelerating rapidly
from 0-120 km/h (33.33 m/s) in just 4.25 seconds at 7.84 m/s2. Then, seeing
as the road ahead is apparently empty he sets the car on cruise control once
it reaches 120 km/h. Suddenly, as they both friends laughing madly out of
euphoria, *CRASH* goes the beautiful 1485 kg Lambo, as it hits the concrete
wall head-on. Now that we have its mass, we can imply that the moving cars
KE = 0.5mv2 = 0.5 x 1485 x (120/3.6)2 = 742.5 x 1111.1 825 000 J. This is an
inelastic collision, wherein most of the kinetic energy is transferred into the
wall as thermal energy, while some is wasted as sound energy. We can also
imply that its momentum, which is rate of change of inertia is p = mv = 1485
x (120/3.6) = 49 500 kg m/s. Now, as the car crashes into the wall, the
momentum (p = mv) changes as the car almost immediately decelerates to 0,
and change in momentum (mv) is known as impulse. Furthermore, according
to Newtons 2nd Law, F = ma. We would use this, but the force in question is
average impact force and not the net force, hence we use the equation Favg =
0.5mv2/d. For this we need to know the cars crumple zone which = its
stopping distance (d), which seems to be 2 feet for this particular Lambo. Thus
to simplify, I will present the answer in standard American units (as well as N
for reference. Moving on, Favg = 0.5mv2/d = 608506.92 ft lbs/2 ft = 2 706
638.78 N = 304 253.46 lbs = 304.25 (short) tons. In connection with this,
Newtons 3rd Law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
In this case, the force the car exerts on the wall equals the force the wall
exerts back onto the car. That is what allowed the kinetic energy that
transferred into the wall as thermal energy to push BACK onto the car. Since
the wall has a much greater inertia, according to Newtons 1st Law, it remains
unmoved. The Lambo takes 2 seconds to stop crumpling completely. That
means in real time, it only experiences half the force it would have
experienced per second as its impulse gets distributed that way, i.e. lesser
force over greater time. That is to say, the impulse required to stop the car is
the same and that is what acts upon the car, but the car doesnt feel all of it
due to this distribution.
Finally, in terms of the passengers of the car, one is more fortunate than the
other. Inertia is the quality of resisting change in motion, and while the car
stopped moving when it hit the wall, both passengers continued to move at
120 km/h (33.33 m/s) Rahil, who did not have his seatbelt on, flew forward
much quicker than Ali, who was slowed down by the seatbelt as well as the
airbags which had helped slow down Rahil as well. This works using the same
principle as the crumple zone for the car; the airbags and seatbelt both work
to spread the force applied and impulse experienced on the passenger over
more time so as to lessen the actual force experienced by him, meaning that
Written by: Ali Adnaan Raza
Year 12/DP 1, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis
With Special Thanks to: Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, and Rahil (for being
a good sport XD)

Ali was much less likely to get injured than Rahil. However, in Rahils case his
impact was only cushioned by the airbag, and according to the rule of how
impulse distribution works, Rahil experienced more of the force of impact than
Ali did, thereby confirming that he was more likely to get injured. As expected,
thats just what happened; Ali didnt get injured much except for some minor
lacerations by the shattered glass and a temporary backache due to his
sudden movement, while Rahil, lucky to be alive at all, smashed his head
against the windshield as it smashed, and fell unconscious immediately. When
he awoke, not only did he not remember anything, but also permanently
entered the mental state of an infant. In conclusion, having explained the
effect on both the car and its passengers, that is the physics of a car crash.

Written by: Ali Adnaan Raza


Year 12/DP 1, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis
With Special Thanks to: Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, and Rahil (for being
a good sport XD)