Crash im­pact hits home

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE - By PAUL GOVER

A CAR crash is hor­ren­dous when you are less than 5m from the im­pact zone and hold­ing the hand of your four-year-old son.

The noise is fear­some, the scene is con­fu­sion, and the af­ter­math is ugly, an­gry and — for the young­ster— more than enough to re­duce you to tears.

And there is al­ways blame and ret­ri­bu­tion.

‘‘It was a green light. I’m sure it was a green light,’’ says the car driver who is most in the wrong.

‘‘What hap­pened? I had a green light,’’ says the mo­tor­cy­clist who has just bounced up off the bi­tu­men to sur­vey the wreck that had been his Kawasaki.

This is the clos­est I have been as a wit­ness to a real- world col­li­sion, al­though I’ve been up close to a whole range of motorsport im­pacts over the years and also watched in fear and amaze­ment at a wide range of car­com­pany crash tests.

The first time I see a bar­rier test, with Mazda in Ja­pan in the 1980s, I am com­pletely hor­ri­fied.

The car rolls down a set of tracks to­wards a solid brick wall with al­most no noise, un­til the giant ‘‘whump’’ as it is re­duced to scrap in a cou­ple of mil­lisec­onds. There is no brak­ing, no at­tempt to swerve, none of the sur­vival moves you ex­pect from your ex­pe­ri­ence on the road.

But the worst, by far, is a car-to-car crash at Honda that shows what hap­pens when two ve­hi­cles go headto-head with losers on both sides. The vi­o­lence is al­most un­be­liev­able and I won­der how any­one can sur­vive this sort of im­pact.

These are the sorts of col­li­sions that form the bedrock of the Aus­tralasian New­Car Assess­ment Pro­gram, which awards safety stars based on a car’s abil­ity to pro­tect its oc­cu­pants— and, in­creas­ingly, pedes­tri­ans — in a crash.

In fu­ture there will be more em­pha­sis on tech­nolo­gies that al­low a car to se­cond-guess the driver in a po­ten­tial emer­gency, even ap­ply­ing the brakes and prim­ing the airbags when an im­pact is un­avoid­able, but right now it’s mostly about the car’s safety cell, im­pact bar­ri­ers, force paths, seat­belts and airbags.

There are no airbags in this week’s im­pact, as the mo­tor­cy­cle fires straight into the side of the car that has sud­denly ap­peared dead-ahead of the rider.

The bike’s front wheel and sus­pen­sion be­come the crum­ple zone, the rider’s hel­met is the force path, and there is barely any im­pact dam­age on the car.

Thank­fully, no one is in­jured, the pride of the two com­bat­ants is quickly re­stored, and the po­lice, am­bu­lance and tow truck ar­rive to mop up the mess.

There will be in­sur­ance claims and time without ve­hi­cles, but that’s in the fu­ture.

Right now, I’m left won- de­r­ing about the causes of what too many peo­ple de­scribe as ‘‘ac­ci­dents’’.

This might have been ‘‘an un­de­sir­able or un­for­tu­nate hap­pen­ing’’, as the Mac­quarie Dic­tionary de­scribes an ac­ci­dent, but there are clear causes from the red­light run­ner to a bike rider who was too keen to plug a gap in the traf­fic.

I pre­fer words such as crash, col­li­sion, im­pact and in­ci­dent.

Very lit­tle hap­pens on the road that is truly ac­ci­den­tal, as I re­mem­ber learn­ing from the late Peter Wher­rett, a safe driv­ing in­struc­tor, the week­end af­ter I qual­i­fied for my pro­vi­sional li­cence.

I credit Wher­rett with my sur­vival through the dan- ger­ous early years of driv­ing, as well as my safe-and­sen­si­ble ap­proach to rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles, which con­tin­ues to this day.

As I soothe my son through the af­ter­math of his first truly nasty life ex­pe­ri­ence, I’m promis­ing my­self — once again— that he’s go­ing to get the best sur­vival train­ing I can find and he’s go­ing to get it well ahead of any com­ing-of-age birth­day celebrations or li­cence test.

Then I whis­per qui­etly to him, ‘‘ Now do you un­der­stand why I don’t want you to ride mo­tor­bikes?’’

He is just as quiet but just as se­ri­ous when he replies ‘‘Yes Daddy. Crashes are bad, I don’t like them.’’

This re­porter is on twit­ter @paulward­gover

Wit­ness­ing a test col­li­sion con­ducted by a car maker is a shock, let alone an ac­ci­dent out on the road

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