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What are the physics of a car crash?

On Behalf of | Aug 14, 2023 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

The odds are high that you haven’t thought much about Newton’s Laws of Motion since you learned about them in high school. Still, they are the fundamental principles of physics – and they play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of a motor vehicle accident.

Understanding more about the way that these rules of nature work can help you better process what happens in a wreck and why specific injuries are more likely than others.

First: The Law of Inertia

Picture this: you’re driving down the road, and suddenly, the car next to you swerves into your lane and you crash. According to Newton’s first law, your car wants to keep moving at the speed it was traveling before the impact. This is called inertia. When your car strikes the other vehicle, that disrupts your car’s forward motion. Your body, however, continues moving forward due to inertia, which can lead to whiplash, traumatic brain injuries and impact with the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield.

Second: The Law of Acceleration

Newton’s second law tells us that the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to whatever force is applied to it and inversely proportional to its mass. In the context of a car wreck, this means that the greater the force applied and the greater the size and weight of the vehicles involved, the worse the crash. This is why high-speed crashes are often so much more deadly than low-speed crashes, and why wrecks involving trucks are more dangerous than wrecks involving only passenger vehicles.

Third: The Law of Action and Reaction

You’ve probably heard this before, but for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Basically, this means that when a car hits an object, the object hits back with equal force.

The sudden action and reaction that happens in a collision explains why vehicles often bounce around in different directions and can even end up on the opposite sides of the road from where they started. It also explains how occupants in a vehicle that crashes can end up with multiple injuries from different angles, depending on the interplay of this law of physics with the others.

Knowing all this won’t prevent a wreck, but it can help you understand the dynamics of one. Accident reconstructionist professionals use these laws of physics to determine what happened in a complicated wreck involving multiple vehicles, so don’t be afraid to explore your legal options even if you aren’t sure exactly what happened after the initial impact.