Motorbikes, hoverboards, and unsecured loads become projectiles

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At the DEKRA Safety Day in Bielefeld, DEKRA carried out three crash tests. Computer simulations are no substitute for real crashes, state the experts.

The second DEKRA Safety Day in Bielefeld shone the spotlight on a series of extremely dangerous – if a little unusual – crash scenarios. The first crash of the day at the Bielefeld Center for Traffic Safety involved a motorbike and a cabrio. In the second test, a hoverboard rider collided with a car. The third crash demonstrated just how dangerous unsecured loads really are.

DEKRA Safety Day 2017 from DEKRA on Vimeo.

Immense effort was invested in the preparation of this event, as every little detail of each crash test was painstakingly planned by accident investigation experts. The core focus of the Safety Day is current developments in all things road traffic related. Crash tests don’t just present an effective way of examining the processes involved in an accident for experts. Their similarity to real-life traffic situations also hits home for onlookers, giving them real food for thought. Software is no substitute. “Crash tests are fascinating, as very few people are generally present for a real-life accident. The tests allow us to witness how crashes play out in real life. Computer simulations are important, and often far cheaper than real crash tests. However, their effectiveness is chiefly for supporting development. So, these physical crash tests aren’t going anywhere – we will still need them in the future,” explains engineer and Head of DEKRA Accident Analysis Jens König.

Crash Test 1: Motorcyclist collides with a cabrio

In the first accident, played out in front of around 300 onlookers on the grounds of the Bielefeld Center for Traffic Safety, the accident researchers demonstrated which risks a motorcyclist faces when they collide with the side of a car. The fact that there are 4.3 million registered motorbikes in Germany means that this topic has considerable relevance. The annual death toll for motorcyclists in Germany has dropped by around 50% since the year 2000, to 541. For an expert organization such as DEKRA – for whom safety is a core topic – this is no reason to lean back and relax.

In the crash test, the dummy riding the motorbike – traveling at 50 km/h – was launched straight into the cabrio. The biker’s helmet made contact with the passenger’s head, before the dummy collided heavily with the driver of the cabrio. Were this accident to play out in real life, there would be no question as to the severity of the injuries sustained by all involved. The motorcyclist would have been very unlikely to survive the collision.

Crash Test 2: The perils of hoverboards

Crash test number two was dedicated to an entirely new situation: the collision of a car with a dummy riding a so-called hoverboard. These self-balancing single-axled electric transporters are seen more and more frequently on our roads. The electric vehicles commonly attain speeds of up to 20 km/h, up to four times quicker than a regular pedestrian. It is when crossing traffic that hoverboards are especially dangerous, as the average driver would not expect a pedestrian to move at such a velocity. So what happens when the inevitable happens? DEKRA demonstrated the consequences of a collision with a car traveling at 45 km/h. Fractions of a second after impact, the dummy had landed meters away in a twisted heap, with limbs at unnatural angles. The two large holes left in the car’s windshield suggest an unprotected hoverboard rider is rather unlikely to survive such a collision.

DEKRA Safety Day in Bielefeld: In the second crash test, a person on a hoverboard collides with a car. Photo: Thomas Küppers

Unbeknown to many, hoverboards need to be registered as a vehicle to be used in public, as they are faster than 6 km/h. There is, however, no approval for such fad items – they don’t come close to fulfilling the requirements. Hoverboards don’t have brakes, and are also not fitted with lights. Legally, they may only be used on private property. Any damages must be dealt with through civil law. The ramifications are that the rider, or rather the user, must bear full responsibility. Personal injuries resulting from an accident can entail massive costs for hospitalization and lost earnings. Things most of us would overlook – potholes or small stones – present big risks for hoverboarders, as they can quickly unbalance the gadgets.

Crash Test 3: Unsecured loads cost lives

The third crash test in Bielefeld demonstrated the hazards that insufficiently secured loads present in accidents. An aging van was the dubious ‘star’ of the show. Even just a cursory glance into the back of the van, would be enough to see how poorly the load had been secured. “This standard tradesman’s van has been loaded precisely how it shouldn’t be! There’s a washing machine in the middle of the floor, a couple of tires and some steel piping. Everything loose, nothing tied down. There could be no happy ending in the event of a collision or sudden application of the brakes. Every little thing has the potential to be a deadly projectile,” says engineer Peter Rücker, who prepared this crash test.

In this test, the van drove into the back of a supposed traffic jam. The unsecured items instantly became lethal missiles. The steel piping was catapulted through the windshield, and buried itself in the interior trim of the car hit by the transporter – this would have had catastrophic results for the occupiers of both vehicles. There would have been no chance of survival for anybody in the passenger seat of the transporter. They would have been crushed by the washing machine. There is a high probability that they too, as well as the occupants of the cabrio, would have been struck and killed by the metal pole.

Having been hit by the metal pipe, the passengers’ survival chances are slim

This situation too has great practical relevance. “It could just as easily have been an accident in town, at a set of traffic lights. In such scenarios, its down to luck as to whether people are hit by items launched from the vehicle. Were they to be hit by the steel pipe directly – as demonstrated in this test – their chances of survival would be more or less zero,” illustrates DEKRA Accident Analyst Norbert Todt.

Even though these are just suppositions, they reflect reality out on the road. The situation is similar in many vans out there – be they used by tradespersons or people moving house. It is alarmingly common for loads to be insufficiently secured. “Everything ‘needs’ to be done in a hurry. There’s no time to think of the consequences,” Todt adds. Paragraph 22 of the German Road Traffic Act (StVO) prescribes the following when it comes to securing a load: Loads must be secured in such a manner that they do not slide, tip, fall off or out of the vehicle during an emergency braking or evasive maneuver.