Click here to return to the James Madison University main page 

Ratio of Fatalities to Speed

How fast can you die in a speeding car?

A slow motion split-second story of what happens what a car going 55mph hits a solid, immovable tree.

1/10th second ---- The front bumper and chrome grillwork collapse. Slivers of steel penetrate the tree to a depth of 1 1/2 inches or more.

2/10th second ---- The hood crumples as it rises, smashing into the windshield. The spinning rear wheels leave the ground. Fenders come into contact with the tree, forcing the rear parts out over the front doors. BUT the driver's body continues to move forward at the vehicle's original speed. At this point the driver, 160 lbs, now weighs about 3200 lbs.

3/10th second ---- The driver's body is now off the seat, torso upright, broken knees pressing against the dashboard. The plastic and steel frame of the steering wheel begins to bend under his terrible death grip. His head is now near the sun visor, his chest above the steering column.

4/10th second ---- The car's front 24 inches have been demolished, but the rear end is still traveling at an estimated 35 mph. The driver's body is still traveling at 55 mph. The heavy engine block crunches into the tree. The rear of the car, like a bucking horse, rises high enough to scrape bark off low branches.

5/10th second ---- The driver's fear-frozen hands bend the steering column into an almost vertical position. The force of gravity, now increased to 20 times normal, impales him on the steering post. Jagged steel punctures lungs and intercostal arteries. Blood pours into his lungs.

6/10th second ---- The driver's feet are ripped from his tightly laced shoes. The Chassis bends in the middle, shearing body bolts. The driver's head smashes into the windshield. The rear of the car begins its downward fall, its spinning rear wheels digging into the ground, adding another forward force.

7/10th second ---- The entire writhing body of the car is forced out of shape. Hinges shear, doors spring open. In one last convulsion, the seat rams forward, pinning the driver against the cruel steel of the steering column. Blood leaps from his mouth, shock has frozen his heart. He is now dead.

Total elapsed time: 7/10ths of one second.

JMU Division of Administration and Finance James Madison University Website