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    50 years of Accident Research.

Reality as the yardstick.

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. 

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 4,700 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.” 

A picture of a car accident taken 50 years ago.

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.

Two men are investigating an accident vehicle.

Research findings from real-life accidents.

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, 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.

Research findings from real-life accidents.

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, 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.

Design of the interior.

In the late 1960s, when Mercedes-Benz began analysing accidents systematically, the attention of the experts was mainly on the crash protection in the interior. Although seat belts were already available for the saloon cars from Mercedes-Benz, they were still used very little. The consequences were serious head injuries sustained by many front passengers when they impacted the steering wheel, dashboard or windscreen. That is why the accident researchers started to look for the particularly dangerous contact areas in the interior and then made suggestions for the redesign of switches, handles and levers. From then on, the materials for the dashboard and interior trim panels were also selected from the aspect of accident protection. Automotive engineers have preferred energy-absorbing materials ever since.    

An employee checks the interior of a vehicle.

Body shell structure.

After “defusing” the interior, the work of the accident researchers and safety engineers focused on further improving the body shell structure. When reconstructing typical collisions with oncoming traffic, the accident researchers had realised that the vehicles most often collided asymmetrically and that the front sections of the body shell were consequently subject to a one-sided load. The experts refer to this type of accident as an off-set impact. These insights had consequences for automotive engineering. Because the legally mandated frontal crash with full overlap against a flat wall as a safety test for passenger cars represented only part of the real accidents, Mercedes-Benz pursued its own strategy. Based on the accident research data, the engineers conducted initial crash tests based on the off-set principle as early as 1974 and in the forked front member realised a design principle for their passenger cars that offered very good occupant protection even under extreme loads on part of the vehicle’s front-end assembly. The S-Class (model series W 126) presented in 1979 was the first model whose crash structure was based on the principle of the forked front member and was designed specifically for the off-set head-on collision. 

Three men are investigating a Mercedes-Benz accident vehicle.

Test procedures.

Years later, the continuous observation of accidents revealed that a further modification of the test procedure was required. Based on this, Mercedes-Benz developed the off-set crash against a deformable barrier: an aluminium structure simulates the crumple zone of the other vehicle involved in the accident during the crash test and in this way makes it possible to conduct a more realistic analysis of the deformation behaviour of the body shell than an impact against a rigid concrete or steel barrier. Today, all newly developed passenger cars in Europe are subject to the crash against a deformable barrier co-developed by Mercedes-Benz. It is rooted in the law and is also part of the Euro NCAP test programme (New Car Assessment Programme).    

The Mercedes-Benz research car.

Side airbag and window airbags.

The many years of Mercedes-Benz commitment in matters of occupant protection had a broad impact. The accident researchers were able to report positive news as early as the start of 1998: in the past two decades, the risk of extremely serious to fatal injuries in a severe head-on collision had been reduced significantly. Fatal injuries of belted car occupants occurred almost exclusively in extremely severe head-on crashes. As a result, the side-on impact became the focus of the safety developers. The percentage of such collisions in accidents with severely injured vehicle occupants had been changing continuously since the 1990s. While it was still 14 percent in 1985, that number had already risen to 30 percent in 1995. Mainly evident was the increasing influence of side-on collisions in traffic accidents involving car occupants suffering fatal injuries. 

Consequently, the safety researchers put together a package of protective measures, which in addition to stable door locks and door hinges also included special deformation elements and foam pads in the interior panels of the doors. Furthermore, Mercedes-Benz passenger cars have side protection reinforcements in the lower section of the doors. This creates an effective side impact protection, which was further improved with the use of side airbags in 1995 and window airbags in 1998.

Side airbag and window airbags.

The many years of Mercedes-Benz commitment in matters of occupant protection had a broad impact. The accident researchers were able to report positive news as early as the start of 1998: in the past two decades, the risk of extremely serious to fatal injuries in a severe head-on collision had been reduced significantly. Fatal injuries of belted car occupants occurred almost exclusively in extremely severe head-on crashes. As a result, the side-on impact became the focus of the safety developers. The percentage of such collisions in accidents with severely injured vehicle occupants had been changing continuously since the 1990s. While it was still 14 percent in 1985, that number had already risen to 30 percent in 1995. 

Mainly evident was the increasing influence of side-on collisions in traffic accidents involving car occupants suffering fatal injuries. 

Consequently, the safety researchers put together a package of protective measures, which in addition to stable door locks and door hinges also included special deformation elements and foam pads in the interior panels of the doors. Furthermore, Mercedes-Benz passenger cars have side protection reinforcements in the lower section of the doors. This creates an effective side impact protection, which was further improved with the use of side airbags in 1995 and window airbags in 1998.

PRE-SAFE®.

The accident researchers realised that more than two thirds of all accidents are preceded by critical driving situations such as skidding, emergency braking or sudden evasive manoeuvres, which already allow conclusions to be drawn about an impending collision. This valuable time before the crash remained unexploited for a long time. Since 2002, the answer has been PRE-SAFE®. This anticipatory occupant protection system is able to detect an impending accident beforehand and springs into action to prepare the occupants and the car for a potential collision, for example, by using electric motors to tension the seat belts as a precautionary and reversible measure. As a result, the phase before the possible impact is put to the best possible use for deploying preventive safety measures. 

The Mercedes-Benz research car is standing in front of an accident vehicle.

Active Brake Assist.

In a study conducted in autumn 2014, the accident researchers of Mercedes-Benz came to the conclusion that up to 20 percent of all serious rear-end collisions in Germany could be prevented if all vehicles were fitted with an equivalent safety system such as the radar-based COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST distance warning system. For the further advanced successor system, COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS, the accident researchers were even forecasting up to 30 percent fewer severe rear-end collisions than without the system. They based their claim on a simulation study using the “pre-crash matrix”, a digital accident database from the Traffic Accident Research Institute in Dresden containing thousands of painstakingly reconstructed real-life accidents. As part of this study, vehicles were equipped virtually with this predecessor system of Active Brake Assist and the effects on each individual rear-end collision were examined. Mercedes-Benz launched COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST as standard in 2011 in the previous generation of the B‑Class.    

Two employees look at an accident car.
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 05.11.2019.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

7 Angaben zu Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe der UN/ECE-Regelung Nr. 101 ermittelt. Die EG-Typgenehmigung und eine Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.