Short version: Reality as the yardstick

Oct 28, 2019

Stuttgart/Immendingen. For 50 years now, Mercedes-Benz experts have examined serious accidents involving current vehicles bearing the three-pointed star. The insights of Mercedes‑Benz Accident Research are incorporated into the improvement and design of updated and new models.

Just this September, Mercedes-Benz celebrated an anniversary in the field of safety: 60 years of crash testing. The first crash test in the history of the brand took place on 10 September 1959. A test car slammed head-on into a solid obstacle. A new era in safety research: because ever since then it has been possible to study the crash behaviour of vehicles and occupants in more detail based on the test cars and test dummies. Crash tests are modelled on reality. Mercedes-Benz Accident Research, which also celebrates a notable anniversary this year, deals directly with real-life accidents.

Established in 1969, Mercedes-Benz Accident Research is one of the oldest departments of this kind in the global automotive industry. Since then, the teams have examined and reconstructed more than 4700 traffic accidents. "The comprehensive approach of Mercedes-Benz safety development pursues two objectives, preventing accidents and mitigating the consequences of them", emphasises Professor Rodolfo Schöneburg, Mercedes-Benz Centre Manager for Vehicle Safety, Operational Stability and Corrosion Protection. "Our safety philosophy is 'real-life safety'. In addition to simulations and crash tests, what actually happens in accidents is an important aspect for us. Our accident research provides crucial insights from real accidents".

Systematic reconstruction of collisions

Mercedes-Benz Accident Research has been systematically studying accidents for 50 years. Thanks to the cooperation with the Interior Ministry of Baden-Württemberg, the police report serious accidents involving a current Mercedes-Benz or smart model that occur within a radius of about 200 kilometres of Sindelfingen. The work of the researchers usually starts on the accident vehicle in the workshop to which it was taken. In the next stage, the accident scene is visited to reconstruct the course of the accident even if only one vehicle was involved. Once they possess all the information, they systematically reconstruct the collision. Finally, the results are compared with the data from other accidents, so that over time, the automotive engineers get a precise picture of typical damage patterns and gain insights for the development of new, even more effective protection systems. In order not to jeopardise their impartiality as researchers, the accident research experts never prepare any expert opinions for parties involved in an accident or as expert witnesses for the judicial system.

All road users benefit from their painstaking detective work and their insights gained: numerous Mercedes-Benz safety innovations such as ESP®, the window airbag or PRE-SAFE® have been developed on the basis of the accident research findings from real-life accidents. The results are also used as a basis for developing practice-oriented test procedures and standards. They include the off-set crash test, for example, first conducted in 1973. It is based on the realisation that the cars collide with only a one-sided and not a complete overlap of the vehicle fronts in about three fourths of all head-on collisions. The 55-km/h head-on crash test with 40-percent overlap against a rigid barrier was one of the toughest test conditions for the body shell structure for a long time, and not just for that of a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. The rigid barrier was replaced by a deformable one. The reason being that accident research had shown that such a barrier as well as a test speed adjusted upwards reproduce real accidents even better.

With colleagues in India and China, Mercedes-Benz Accident Research has also had an international footprint for some years now. The accident researchers in the Far East benefit from the expertise from Sindelfingen. With the help of AR goggles[1], they can compare notes with colleagues directly and in real time and thus conduct a joint analysis even though the German accident research experts are not on site.

Since 1972, Commercial Vehicle Accident Research at Daimler has studied accidents involving Mercedes-Benz trucks throughout Germany in order to derive measures for active and passive safety from them. The researchers always document all of the information about the circumstances of the accident, the vehicles involved and the damages. They also look for anomalies, for example, with regard to the frequency of types of accidents, the detectability of certain accident patterns or the injuries to the parties involved in the accidents. On the basis of this analysis, the accident researchers derive modification measures that culminate in future Mercedes-Benz requirements. This is how the idea for Sideguard Assist was born a few years ago, which is available ex-factory at Mercedes-Benz for many truck models on the market.

Research focusing on vans has also already been around since the 1970s. However, the various departments were initially assigned to different divisions. Since summer 2015, Mercedes-Benz Vans has had its own accident research, too. From its headquarters at the Untertürkheim plant, the engineers study selected accidents involving vans from Mercedes-Benz.

To Daimler, sustainability means creating value for all stakeholders on a lasting basis: customers, employees, investors, business partners and society as a whole. The basis for this is the sustainable business strategy of Daimler. In it, the company takes responsibility for the economic, ecological and social effects of its business activities and looks at the entire value chain.

[1] AR = Augmented Reality, reality augmented with digital content