Crashworthiness Failure Injury

Crashworthiness in automobiles is the science of minimizing the risk of serious injuries and death in vehicle collisions. Five principles are put to work to measure a vehicle’s crashworthiness: control crush – maintain survival space, restrain vehicle occupants, prevent ejections, control where energy is transferred, and preventing vehicle fires.

To be considered a crashworthy vehicle, all 5 principles must work as a team to keep occupants safe and secure in the event of a crash, rollover, or other accident. Sometimes though, a vehicle’s safety systems fail. Seatbelt buckles become unlatched or airbags deploy in minor impacts causing much more damage and injury than what they were meant to prevent. In other accidents, door latches fail and fly open, roofs are crushed and seats collapse. 

Contact our car defect attorneys if you believe that crashworthiness failure caused you to suffer injury.

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What is Vehicle Crashworthiness?

Crashworthiness in automobiles is the science of minimizing the risk of serious injuries and death in vehicle collisions. Five principles are put to work to measure a vehicle’s crashworthiness: control crush – maintain survival space, restrain vehicle occupants, prevent ejections, control where energy is transferred, and preventing vehicle fires.

To be considered a crashworthy vehicle, all 5 principles must work as a team to keep occupants safe and secure in the event of a crash, rollover, or other accident. Sometimes though, a vehicle’s safety systems fail. Seatbelt buckles become unlatched or airbags deploy in minor impacts causing much more damage and injury than what they were meant to prevent. In other accidents, door latches fail and fly open, roofs are crushed and seats collapse.

If vehicle structure is compromised in an accident, no amount of seat belts, airbags, door latches, or safe seats will adequately protect the passenger. The structure must maintain adequate survival space. Unfortunately, drivers are misled by ads that represent their vehicles contain “built-in safety cages” and “steel reinforced crush zones.” The fact is, every vehicle has a safety cage and reinforced area that surrounds the passenger.

What Are Common Areas of Crashworthiness Failure?

Common areas that lead to crashworthiness failure include:

  • Seatbelt buckle system
  • Airbags Safety
  • Headrests or Head restraints
  • Sturdy seat backs
  • Door latches & locks
  • Side impact protection zones
  • Front and rear crumple and protection zones
  • Fuel Tanks, fuel lines, and gas tanks
  • Roofs- Roof Strength & Integrity
  • Windows and Windshields that protect in a crash
  • Rollover Protection Systems
  • Welding of component car body parts
  • Braking systems- antilock

Crashworthiness Failure Injury. A white sedan being tested for crashworthiness in an indoor facility.

Factors that Contribute to Crashworthiness

Some elements of a vehicle that affect crashworthiness include:

Seat Belts

Restraining the occupant is one of the 5 principles of crashworthiness. Seat belt cases are the most common crashworthiness cases due to their mandatory use. The most widely used seat belt system in the world is the 3-point B-pillar mounted design. Several other faulty designs have been used in the past. These include 2-point shoulder belts with no lap belt, 2-point passive (automatic shoulder belt with manual lap belts, 3-point door-mounted belts where the lap and shoulder belts are attached to the door, All Belts To Seat, and lap belt only.

2-point passive shoulder belts are quite problematic when involved in a rollover. There is no lap belt in the design to prevent ejection. If a door opened, the occupant might be swept outside the vehicle. Without a lap belt, in frontal collisions, the passenger sometimes submarines under the belt which led to many decapitation injuries and hangman’s fractures.

The 3-point door-mounted belt design also had its problems. Vehicles with problematic type III door latches caused the seat belts to be effectively useless during an accident in which the door opened. The door mount can cause a slingshot effect hurling the occupant backward in a crash causing severe head injuries.

The standard 3-point B-pillar seatbelt is not perfect but it has saved many lives. One of the weak points in some 3 point belts is the retractors. They will not lock up completely or timely in the event of a wreck. Perhaps the best design though is the All Belts To Seat (ABTS) design. It works so well by restraining the passenger to the seat in the vehicle rather than the vehicle cage itself. Its design requires a stronger seat base and frame which is very helpful to the driver or passenger.

Stronger seats help to keep the occupant upright in the event of an accident. Seat back defects in non-ABTS vehicles can cause the seats to deform rearward in even minor accidents. When attached to the vehicle’s B-pillar, the restraint can be rendered useless once the seat back fails. The ABTS, even if the seat back fails in an accident, the seat belt is not rendered useless because it is still attached to the seat.

Airbags

Airbags are meant to provide a secondary relief during a crash. The primary support and injury preventative being the correct use of a safe seat belt. During a frontal impact accident, airbags can deploy at speeds up to 225 mph. Unfortunately, too many airbags are going off at low speeds which have shown repeatedly to be deadly to children.

A child sitting in a front-facing child seat will almost always be seriously injured or killed from an airbag. The child simply cannot withstand the amount of force from the airbag. Tests on child-sized dummies concluded that airbags and small children are a dangerous combination and concluded with: out-of-position children are at risk for head and neck injuries, airbag deployment speeds are too high, airbag deployment angles expose children to head and neck injuries, and airbags can kill children.

Why do children and airbags not mix?

  • Airbags are meant to protect a dummy that is 5’10” weighing 165 pounds
  • Airbags without sensors for weight deploy with full force into a child at a mid-mount
  • Some passenger side-impact airbags are not restricted
  • Passenger-side airbags are too large, taking up too much of the passenger volume

Again, airbags can deploy in low-speed accidents, when they are supposed to be a supplemental restraint system. Some statistics point out that over half of all airbag deployments are occurring at accident speeds below 15mph while the risk of injuries in accidents below 15 mph is minor, even to unbelted passengers. Delta Velocity levels of airbags desperately need to be standardized to speeds of 18-20mph like those seen in other countries. While airbags save many lives, high-speed accidents are where they are by far most useful.

Crashworthiness Failure in Frontal Impacts

One of the basic principles behind frontal impact accidents is the rapid deceleration of a vehicle. During a frontal collision, the vehicle and its occupants are suddenly put under rapid deceleration. It is during these fractions of a second that vehicle design becomes vital for survival. Modern-day automobiles are made to be sacrificed during such an event to protect the passengers.

A vehicle’s crashworthiness can be measured by examining how much time the vehicle allows for distribution of the deceleration, how much area does the vehicle allow the forces to be distributed through, and if human distribution is involved, distributing those forces to parts of the body that can withstand greater force.

A car with damage to the front-end after an accident over a white background.

Although motor vehicle safety has improved by leaps and bounds, the technology to do more to protect occupants during frontal impact accidents is available. Fortunately for both the good of the public and automobile makers business, safety is a top priority for car buyers.

How Can You Prove Your Vehicle’s Crashworthiness Was Inferior?

Auto defect cases are often the hardest cases to win, as the defendants are usually multi-million or multi-billion dollar corporations who have the resources to fight. In cases involving product defects, the fight is often a battle of the parties experts and the discovery of documents that shown notice of a problem or defect on the part of the defendants prior to this product being manufactured. Hiring an attorney with a proven track record and a willingness to take on the big corporations is the first step in the battle. If you need an aggressive product liability attorney, then call the Willis Law Firm.

Contact a Lawyer to Review Your Crashworthiness Failure Injury Claim

If you’ve been in an accident and believe the crashworthiness failure of your vehicle caused you injury contact our lawyers today. We will schedule a free consultation to review all the details of your accident and what your options are for pursuing compensation.

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