Four people came out of a car crash off a 75-meter cliff almost unscathed.
It’s very rare to survive such a crash, but not entirely unheard of, one expert said.
Professor Jahan Rasty mentioned several Tesla safety features that likely helped.
The people who survived driving off an 85-foot cliff were lucky to be alive — and being in a Tesla helped a lot, an expert told Insider.
Two adults and two children escaped with only minor injuries after falling off the cliff face known as Devil’s Slide not far from San Francisco.
Dharmesh Patel, a 42-year-old Pasadena physician, was arrested on attempted murder charges after the crash. He was formally charged on Monday.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told Insider Tuesday that Neha Patel, his wife, told the paramedics who rescued the family at the scene that he deliberately ran the car off the road.
Such a fall would likely be fatal in almost all cases, according to Jahan Rasty, a forensic engineer who studies accidents.
Rasty, a mechanical engineering professor at Texas Tech University, told Insider about the physics of the crash and how Tesla’s safety features likely helped.
Car accidents of any kind come down to the transfer of energy. If too much of the energy from a moving car is suddenly channeled into people’s bodies, they will die.
If the car stops abruptly, that energy has to go somewhere, as Rasty explained. Car safety design is all about channeling that energy away from the passengers.
One way is to strategically build the car so that it collapses on impact and uses the energy to bend the chassis. That process is called energy dissipation.
This photo shows a NASCAR crash with the crumpled design doing its job:
They were lucky enough to roll before impact
No car is built with a huge, pure drop in mind. If the car had fallen all that height without stopping, it’s very unlikely the passengers could have survived, Rasty said.
Rasty’s job is to determine what happened to a car by examining the wreckage, and he described the likely events in this crash.
He estimated that the car left the road at 77 miles per hour, fell about 200 feet, rolled several times onto the cliff, and then fell another 50 feet to crash squarely on its tires.
“The car is a total loss, but the damage is fairly uniform all around,” he said of the wreckage footage.
Every time the car hit the side of the cliff, a little bit of the energy was lost as a side panel crumbled, he said. This meant that the energy was not all concentrated in one place.
“That’s really what saved them, the fact that the energy of the impact was distributed more or less evenly throughout the car,” he said.
If he had fallen with his nose, the car would have had to absorb all that energy in one go.
All cars are not built equal
According to Rasty, they were very lucky to be in a Tesla.
Tesla roofs “are about 30% stronger in terms of crash resistance” than a regular car, Rasty said.
“So they can carry about four times the weight of the car, while the average requirement is three times the weight of the car.”
That means the car probably wouldn’t collapse, which is a risk when a car rolls over.
The weight distribution also helped, he said.
A Tesla battery goes in the middle of the car, unlike a gasoline car that usually has its heavy engine in the front.
This means that the Tesla is less likely to fall nose-first and instead tends to roll sideways.
Teslas also have a safety feature called a steel step frame designed to redirect energy to areas of the car that can best handle it.
“Being in that Tesla definitely improved their chances,” he said. “They’re pretty safe cars.”
Seatbelts and car seats were also essential
The car can only protect the passengers if they remain in the car during the crash, Rasty noted.
Without seatbelts and car seats for the kids, they would have fared much worse.
Combined, Rasty said, those factors meant that an apparently deadly crash instead became an unlikely survival story.
“Being in that Tesla definitely increased their chances,” Rasty said.
This story was updated on February 1, 2023 to reflect the latest developments in the case
Read the original article on Business Insider