ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – You do not want to try this at home, or in your car

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

This column by Mel Rothenburger was published on Dec. 7, 1977:

LETTERS TO the editor during the past couple of weeks have brought out into the open what has previously been a sort of quiet war between trucks and car drivers.

The car drivers have felt somewhat cowed and maybe even awed at the power and macho of the truckers (or 18-wheelers, in CB language). But there’s life in the little guys, who claim the guys in the big trucks are not the professional drivers they used to be.

The pros return the volley with the accusation that the car drivers are the ones causing all the trouble, with their lack of consideration for the problems of the truckers.

One could conclude that nobody is wrong in this argument, or that nobody is right. But nobody really wins.

All this is just a lead-in to the fact that Safe Driving Week ends today and I want to give you my favorite safe driving story. It kind of reduces petty arguments about who’s causing the problems into inconsequence.

It’s the story of what happens when a car travelling 90 km-h (55 mph) crashes into an immovable tree. The driver is not wearing a seatbelt.

  1. The front bumper and chrome frosting of the grillwork collapse. Slivers of steel penetrate the tree to a depth of one and a half inches or more.
  2. The hood crumples as it rises, smashing into the windshield, spinning rear wheels leave the ground. The fenders come into contact with the tree, forcing the rear parts out over the front doors. The heavy structural members of the car begin to act as a brake on the terrific forward momentum of the two and half-ton car. The driver’s body continues to move forward at the vehicle’s original speed (20 times normal force of gravity, his body weights 3,200 lbs.); his legs, ramrod straight, snap at the knee joints.
  3. 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 begin to bend under his terrible death grip. His head is now near the sun visor, his chest above the steering wheel.
  4. The car’s front 61 centimetres (24 inches) have been demolished, but the rear end is still travelling at an estimated speed of 58 km-h (35 mph), the driver’s body is still travelling 90 km-h (55 mph). The half-ton motor crunches into the tree. The rear-end of the car, like a bucking horse, rides high enough to scrape bark off the lower branches.
  5. The driver’s fear-frozen hands bend the steering column into an almost vertical position, the force of gravity impales him on the steering shaft. Jagged steel punctures lungs and intercostal arteries, blood spurts into his lungs.
  6. The driver’s feet are ripped from his tightly laced shoes, the brake pedal sheers off at the floorboards, 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, spinning wheels digging into the ground.
  7. The entire writhing body of the car is forced out of shape, hinges tear, doors spring open. In one last convulsion, the seat rams forward, pinning the driver against the cold steel of the steering shaft. Blood leaps from his mouth, shock has frozen his heart.
  8. He is now dead.
  9. Time elapsed: 7-10 seconds.

About Mel Rothenburger (6465 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – You do not want to try this at home, or in your car

  1. Chilling, a reminder to take care on the road.

  2. Reg Ealey // May 11, 2018 at 5:21 AM // Reply

    Mr. Rothenburger,

    Your step by step description of a car hitting a tree is so graphic.
    Your story sounds very logical and I could almost feel myself being like a projectile in a confined space.

    I hope everyone takes time to read it and digest it.
    It would be interesting to have a similar story about what happens when a semi hits a tree, except for shearing it off, so your explanation would have to be a tree that withstands the impact of the semi and effectively stops the semi in the same fashion.

    Let the semi be one pulling two fully loaded trailers.

    As well. It would be interesting if anyone had assimilated a similar head- on collision between a semi with 2 fully loaded trailers and a car.

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