The Physics of Automobile Accidents

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The Physics of Automobile Accidents

Automobile accidents happen all around us. We see cars in the middle of the road after just rear ending each other. We see cars driving around town with big dents in them. Do you ever stop to wonder how car accidents happen? Physics; that’s how they happen. There are several aspects of physics that apply to automobile accidents.

An aspect of physics that is applicable to automobile accidents is kinetic energy. Kinetic energy can be defined as the energy of motion. The equation for kinetic energy is:


Kinetic energy behaves a bit differently depending on the type of collision: elastic or inelastic.

In an elastic collision, kinetic energy is always conserved. Nearly all of the kinetic energy is transferred from the first object to the second. Thus, when two cars collide, all the kinetic energy would be conserved; no energy would be lost. The objects in an elastic collision “bounce” apart when they collide. The only time that an elastic collision occurs in an automobile accident is when the vehicles collide at a slow sp...

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