Accidents happen. When fast-moving metal hits an object, the occupants want to live to tell about it. If that object is a pedestrian, they also want to be able to tell the tale.
Here are some graphic videos of crash test dummies and of fake heads and legs violently hitting cars in controlled collisions. Safety engineers at Honda shared them with us during a daylong deep dive into some of the work it has done to make today’s vehicles safe, and they told us what they have planned for upcoming products.
The reality is that about 37,000 people die in car accidents every year, and 47 percent of them involve pedestrians or cyclists. So automakers spend millions on crash test dummies, deliberately crash perfectly good new vehicles every day, and simulate the impact of a pedestrian hitting the bumper or hood of a car. The goal is lofty: to make vehicles so safe that injuries and fatalities are reduced to zero.
Engineers use the reams of data generated from crash tests to develop cars that crumple, crack, and deform in a way that absorbs the impact and keeps the cabin intact and the occupants safe. See this crash test of a 2019 Honda Civic coupe: The damage is horrific in front of the A frame, but the dummy inside was protected.
They also continue to improve airbags. Honda used the day at its research and development center in Raymond, Ohio, near Marysville, to show us its latest creation.
The next-generation passenger front airbag design catches the head like a catcher’s mitt, slowing the rotation of the head and reducing how much the brain sloshes around inside the skull, which can lead to horrific outcomes such as concussion, coma, and loss of speech or mobility.
This innovative new airbag will debut in 2020. Officials aren’t saying which Acura or Honda vehicles will be first to get them.
The new airbag was designed by engineers at Honda R&D Americas in partnership with supplier Autoliv. Autoliv will be able to sell the design to other automakers after Honda has enjoyed an undisclosed period of exclusivity.
Honda is introducing this new airbag on the passenger side because engineers felt this was the one most in need of being updated based on data from an assortment of front and angled crashes. Expect a revised driver’s side front airbag using this concept in the future.
Instead of a single chamber that fills with air, the new airbag design has three inflatable compartments. There’s one on each side to cradle the head, with a “sail panel” stretched between them to catch the head and keep it from sliding off the protective pillow, and a third chamber is behind that sail, explains Eric Heitkamp, Honda’s principal engineer for safety restraint systems. The design better safeguards a passenger even if they aren’t sitting properly at the time of the accident; the sail pulls the head in from any position.
Honda showed it in action in a “pitching sled test,” which simulates a moving vehicle getting slammed. A dummy in the sled is thrust backward (the test uses 555,000 horsepower to move it) to mimic the impact. In this video, the airbag works as intended.
Honda has 1,600 employees at the Ohio center, mostly engineers, and labs dedicated to advanced crash simulations, pedestrian safety, collision testing, and advanced restraint system development and tuning.
The automaker has developed a pedestrian test dummy to address the fact that 18 percent of fatalities each year are pedestrians and cyclists. This has led to development of breakaway wiper pivots, collapsible cowl structures, and energy-absorbing hood hinges on cars—all areas that could have seriously harmed a pedestrian. In a pedestrian accident, a vehicle hits the leg first, the body wraps around the hood, and the head can hit it. Honda has equipment that mimics all those impacts. Most dramatic: the deformation of a hood when a head hits it.
Driver assist technology is designed to activate the brakes if a pedestrian is detected and the driver fails to stop. We tried it, and it stopped for a moving pedestrian crossing the road, a pedestrian stopped in the middle of the road, and a car stopped ahead.
In a humorous twist, the mock pedestrian in the demo safely walked across the street and then, as it if tripped on the curb, did a face-plant onto the pavement on the side of the road.
The Honda Sensing and AcuraWatch suites of safety and driver assist systems are standard or available on all 2019 and 2020 models, and they will be standard by 2022.