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November 13, 2020

Watch us smash new cars with a 30m crane drop – for safety

What would you do to severely damage 10 new cars – with safety technology so good that even standard crash tests don’t deform them enough – so they can be used as a learning challenge for our emergency services heroes? Would dropping each car a few times from a 30m crane mess them up enough? Let’s find out!

“Does it have to be a new car?” an attending cameraman said as he watched a shiny new XC40 being hoisted 30m (100ft) into the sky by a crane – for the car to later be dropped to smash into the ground. “I’m happy to give you my old car to crash if you let me have that new Volvo.”


He was joking – but his offer was sincere. Little did he know he was focused on the main reason why we recently worked with our friends at emergency services to do a 30m crane drop with 10 new Volvo cars – each car dropped several times to ensure maximum damage.


As you would expect, emergency services personnel need to practice their various methods for extricating people from severe car crash scenes. Jens Molin, who has worked as a firefighter and extrication specialist for 20 years, explained how working with new cars is critical to emergency services teams.


“A problem we have as a fire brigade is that when we train normally, we usually get our cars from scrapyards. These cars are most often 10 to 20 years old, and they work very differently from the cars of today, regarding safety, hardness in the steel and how they work when we try to open them up. So it’s extremely important for us to work with new cars to test our abilities.”


That’s (one reason) why we couldn’t swap out the cameraman’s old car for the new Volvo – damaging new cars with the latest safety structures and technology was critical to what needed to be learned that day.


Our Safety Centre, for twenty years, has conducted on average one physical crash test per day – the type you might already know about, with crash test dummies – but these tests are very specific and our cars’ safety structure is so robust that, in most crash scenarios, the emergency services people can simply open the door of a new Volvo to access the occupants.


So we were very interested in the (fun) challenge of answering the question: how can we damage our new cars enough for them to be suitable for emergency services training? Why not try something extreme, like dropping each car several times from a 30m crane?


It was the first time we’ve dropped our cars from a 30m-high crane. Only by doing this could we create enough deformation to adequately simulate the damage found in the most extreme crash scenarios, like single-car accidents at very high speed, accidents where a car hits a truck at high speed, or when a car takes a severe hit from the side. It’s these kinds of severely damaged cars emergency services needed to test their skills and new equipment, to learn how to deal with the most extreme accidents; the ones where survivors need their help most.


Why is practicing such scenarios so important? When it comes to car crashes, emergency services heroes often talk about the ‘Golden Hour’ – getting severely injured people to the hospital within an hour of a crash occurring can be the key to their survival.


“We have been working closely together with the Swedish rescue services for many years,” says Håkan Gustafson, a senior investigator with our Traffic Accident Research Team. “Because we have the same goal: to have safer roads for all. We hope no one ever experiences the most severe accidents, but not all accidents can be avoided. So it is vital there are methods to help save lives when the most severe accidents do happen.”


But there’s only so much that words can do to explain something this spectacular, so see it for yourself in this video that says much more about the challenges emergency services personnel face in their day-to-work. 


Watch the video here.