Catalyst - High Speed Impact
There is a hidden toll on our roads - the trauma of serious brain injury. To understand why, we need to see what really happens in a car crash. This Catalyst special report looks at the cutting edge science of crash testing and investigates one accident that changed a woman's life forever.
The latest computer modelling techniques reveal for the first time what happens to the human brain at the moment of impact, and what can be done about the way we design our vehicles.
Annette's accident wasn't fatal, but the injuries to her brain were catastrophic. To understand why, we follow a world-leading accident research team from Monash University as they investigate Annette's car crash and feed their information into a computer model housed at Wayne Sate University in the US. Using high speed X ray cameras the US, researchers have been able to gain a unique insight into what actually happens to the brain at the moment of high-speed impact. Their computer modelling of Annette's accident shows how her brain rotated inside her head and collided with the skull causing the rupturing and bruising which lead to her permanent brain damage.
Annette's crash also highlights a serious weakness in vehicle design. Her car was hit on the side. As the dramatic reconstruction at the Holden crash testing facility shows, occupants hit from the side are 17 times more likely to suffer brain damage. From these crash tests the need for one safety feature emerges - side air bags.
But in the real world a solution is a long way off. Side airbags have been fitted to just 5% of the vehicles on our roads, and there's another design factor contributing to the hidden toll of brain injury. The crash test of a four-wheel drive vehicle into the side of a family car dramatically illustrates a shocking statistic. Occupants hit from the side by a four wheel drive are 26 times more likely to suffer serious brain injury or be killed than if hit by a standard sized car. Four-wheel drives, however, are the fastest growing type of motor vehicle on the market.
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