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Nigel Latta investigates the science of car crashes
By Paul Charman • 09/05/2015
While esteemed psychologist and presenter Nigel Latta likes to Blows Things Up, as shown in his TV One programme, his episode on car crashes looks to be the most controversial.
In tomorrow night’s episode, Latta looks at the science of car collisions and asks: If you crash your car, are you better off in a small, new, five-star safety-rated car or in something old and solid?
To find the answer, Latta heads south to crash some cars.
The episode used 4000-frame-per-second cameras and the little known Holmes Solutions crash-testing facility at Christchurch.
For Latta, of all the episodes in the Blows Things Up series, the science of car collisions created the most debate and discussion amongst not just the production team, but also their experts.
“Whether making lightning, sending deckchairs into space or measuring effects of house fires, we were answering scientific questions, but pretty certain in advance what we’d find out,” said Latta. “Even in the rocket episode ... our rocket scientists predicted how high they’d go and this proved exactly right.”
Latta won’t give too much away but it appears members of his team held opposing views, essentially over whether heavier, more solid vehicles would prove safer in a crash than lighter, more highly engineered ones.
While this is being resolved, he promises salutary information on the physics of the crashes.
“The amount of energy transferred into vehicles during a crash is plain astonishing”.
His only direct experience came long ago while driving alone on a metal road, “as a silly young teen with a new licence, when I put my first car into a ditch”. Later while studying at university Latta worked as an ambulance volunteer and saw many times what crashes can do to the human body.
“Now I’ve also learned much about the science and engineering behind modern crash protection. It’s all about the energy going through the vehicle. If the passenger compartment survives intact, but that energy goes into you, there’s still going to be a big problem,” he says.
“You really want the energy channelled around the compartment, not through it.”
●Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up — Sunday May 10, 8pm TV One