The event of a serious car crash is often over in the blink of an eye. It happens so quickly that few people ever get a chance to fully comprehend what exactly is going on. All we know is that in the end, there’s a messed up car and possibly an injured occupant or two.

Ford engineers designed the new Ford Falcon XT around the idea that they wanted to produce the smartest and safest car available to Australians. The results of testing earned Ford the country’s first Australian-made 5-star crash safety rating. With precise mechanics and recording devices in the car and surrounding it, Ford was able to break down the anatomy of a serious car crash in 1/1000ths of a second intervals.

The following is a list of actual events that occur to a Ford Falcon XT sedan being struck in the driver’s door by another vehicle traveling at 50 km/h (just over 30 mph). See the crash video here.

0 milliseconds – An external object touches the driver’s door.
1 ms – The car’s door pressure sensor detects a pressure wave.
2 ms – An acceleration sensor in the C-pillar behind the rear door also detects a crash event.
2.5 ms – A sensor in the car’s centre detects crash vibrations.
5 ms – Car’s crash computer checks for insignificant crash events, such as a shopping trolley impact or incidental contact. It is still working out the severity of the crash. Door intrusion structure begins to absorb energy.
6.5 ms – Door pressure sensor registers peak pressures.
7 ms – Crash computer confirms a serious crash and calculates its actions.
8 ms – Computer sends a “fire” signal to side airbag. Meanwhile, B-pillar begins to crumple inwards and energy begins to transfer into cross-car load path beneath the occupant.
8.5 ms – Side airbag system fires.
15 ms – Roof begins to absorb part of the impact. Airbag bursts through seat foam and begins to fill.
17 ms – Cross-car load path and structure under rear seat reach maximum load.
Airbag covers occupant’s chest and begins to push the shoulder away from impact zone.
20 ms – Door and B-pillar begin to push on front seat. Airbag begins to push occupant’s chest away from the impact.
27 ms – Impact velocity has halved from 50 km/h to 23.5 km/h. A “pusher block” in the seat moves occupant’s pelvis away from impact zone. Airbag starts controlled deflation.
30 ms – The Falcon has absorbed all crash energy. Airbag remains in place. For a brief moment, occupant experiences maximum force equal to 12 times the force of gravity.
45 ms – Occupant and airbag move together with deforming side structure.
50 ms – Crash computer unlocks car’s doors. Passenger safety cell begins to rebound, pushing doors away from occupant.
70 ms – Airbag continues to deflate. Occupant moves back towards middle of car.
Engineers classify crash as “complete”.
150-300 ms – Occupant becomes aware of collision.


As you notice, a whole lot happens before your brain even becomes aware of the car crash and that last line could actually take as long as 500ms depending on the person. And hot damn. Read the line about feeling 12 times the force of gravity. GEEZ.