Glenbrook South Year-End Projects

Auto Collisions and Auto Safety

Basic Research Questions


Your role as researcher for this project involves acquiring a wealth of technical information about the efforts of accident reconstructionists, safety administrators, and automobile designers to reduce collision frequency and insure vehicle safety. The process of conducting a literature search should yield some basic information about the physics which underlies traffic reconstruction and automobile safety devices. Some basic topics for research and ultimate discussion have been listed below to assist you in the initial stages of your literature search. The role of this listing is to provide an initial framework for your literature search and not a conclusive list of topics to be discussed. Your group is expected to go beyond these topics, exploring diverse areas of individual interest about sight and sound in nature.

  1. Discuss Newton's three laws and make efforts to apply each individual law to phenomena experienced in an automobile accident.
  2. Combine Newton's second law of motion and kinematic equations to make predictions about the factors which effect the amount of stopping distance needed by a car in order to avoid accidents.
  3. Use free-body diagram analyses to describe the forces acting upon cars prior to a collision and during collisions.
  4. Define and distinguish between elastic and inelastic collisions and relate such terms to automobile collisions.
  5. Define impulse and momentum and use the impulse-momentum change theorem to quantitatively and qualitatively analyze automobile collisions.
  6. Explain the law of momentum conservation and use it to perform mathematical analyses of collisions.
  7. Describe how the vector nature of momentum can be used to mathematically analyze right-angle ninelastic collisions.
  8. Describe the motion characteristics of projectiles and use kinematic equations and projectile principles to calculate the range of an airborne vehicle, passenger, or other object which results from an automobile collision.
  9. Use the work equation and the work energy-theorem to explain the role of crumple zones and chassis deformation in a collision and explain how measurements of the amount of chassis deformation can be used to make estimates of pre-collision speeds of vehicles.
  10. Define torque and rotation and explain how rotational principles can be used to analyze automobile accidents.
  11. Explain what an accident reconstructionist is and describe the types of problems which they attempt to solve.
  12. Describe the methods used, the questions asked, and the information sought by accident reconstructionists in order to reconstruct an accident.
  13. Give concrete examples of how an accident reconstructionist uses accident scene measurements and information to determine pre-collision motion characteristics of colliding automobiles.
  14. Identify a few safety devices used in automobiles and use diagrams and words to explain the underlying science.


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Tom Henderson

Howard Jenewein

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Questions and comments can be sent to Tom Henderson.

This page last updated on 2/20/98.