Painstaking detective work on real accidents

May 20, 2019

Mercedes-Benz accident research (UFO) is a major component of the safety philosophy "Real Life Safety" – taking guidance from what actually happens in accidents. Up to 100 times each year, the experts take to the road to examine serious accidents involving current Mercedes-Benz vehicles within a radius of around 200 kilometres from Sindelfingen. The aim is to learn from them, and incorporate the findings into the upgrading and design of new models.

Starting in 1969, Mercedes-Benz accident research is one of the oldest departments of this kind in the automobile industry. Since then the teams have examined and reconstructed more than 4800 traffic accidents. Most assignments are within a radius of around 200 kilometres from Sindelfingen, but in some cases the distance can be much greater.

All road users benefit from their painstaking detective work and extensive collection of data: numerous Mercedes-Benz safety innovations such as ESP®, the windowbag or PRE-SAFE® were developed on the basis of these accident findings.

Thanks to cooperation with the interior ministry of Baden-Württemberg, the police report serious accidents involving a current Mercedes-Benz model that occur in the region. When the researchers take to the road in their prominently marked V-Class, they usually start by examining the vehicle, which is often already in a workshop. How severely was the bodywork deformed? Were the airbag(s) and belt tensioner(s) deployed? Is there anything unusual about the interior of the Mercedes-Benz model involved in the accident?

In the next stage the accident scene is visited to reconstruct the course of the accident, also if only one vehicle was involved. There are always many questions to answer: What were the positions of the vehicles at the moment of impact? Are there tyre or skid marks? For one and a half years or so, the accident researchers have been aided in this by a laser scanner that enables the accident scene to be three-dimensionally scanned as a point cloud and automatically measured. Vehicles that drive through the scene on the day of the reconstruction are simply faded out.

The answers to the numerous questions are structured and electronically stored on a tablet PC, along with dozens of photos, sketches and injury reports. When all the information is finally to hand, the collision is systematically reconstructed.

Special software helps the researchers to do this. It converts the data and measured values from the scene into moving images. To this end the computer e.g. combines the length of the tyre or skid marks with the design and dynamic data of the vehicle suffering the accident, and reconstructs what happened on this basis. The specialists are able to see on-screen how the vehicle moved before, during and after the collision.

Finally the results are compared with the data from other accidents, so that over time, the automobile engineers gain a precise picture of typical injury patterns and further findings for the development of new, even more effective protection systems. With the help of a so-called prospective efficiency analysis, the accident researchers are also able to ascertain what the consequences of an accident would have been if a particular safety feature had been on board.