Better safe than sorry
Audi A5 approaches the intersection. The stop sign tells the driver to stop – but the A5 does not slow down. It enters the intersection without braking. The driver of the Audi A1, who has the right of way, doesn’t stand a chance – she cannot stop in time. She swerves to avoid the other vehicle, but the collision is inevitable.
This accident* happened a few weeks ago, but in the virtual world it takes place again and again from many different angles – from an aerial perspective and from the view of the two drivers involved in the accident. The 3D animation of the accident reconstruction is repeated several times so that all the spectators in the room can get an accurate idea of what happened. On this Friday in November 2019, around 20 experts from various fields are sitting in a meeting room at Technical Development in Ingolstadt. The AARU, Audi Accident Research Unit, has invited the experts to an interdisciplinary case review.
Experts working hand in hand
In addition to Audi employees from Product Analysis, Data Analysis and Driver Assistance Systems and from the specialist department Vehicle Safety, the participants include employees from the cooperation partner, University Hospital Regensburg. They are all working to make mobility in general and cars in particular safer by investigating the circumstances of accidents.
Psychologist Karen Tschech and her team interviewed the two people involved in the accident several weeks prior to the meeting. Their goal was to investigate the psychological aspects of the accident: Was distraction an issue? From the viewpoint of everyone involved, how did the accident happen? Of course, to get answers to these questions, those involved must agree to the survey. This cannot always be taken for granted, but when the people involved in the accident hear that their case may help prevent similar accidents, they tend to consent to these interviews.
Analysis of the rescue chain
When an accident occurs, things often have to happen fast. This is why the team receives accident reports via the AARU hotline from all police departments in Bavaria that support the accident investigators. During office hours, this hotline is answered by the AARU team assistants and, at night, by the duty officer from the medical team, thus the police can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
When accidents are being analyzed, the physicians’ input is also important. Dr. Katharina Angerpointner works in the trauma surgery department at University Hospital Regensburg, where she treats people who are injured in accidents. When it comes to accident research, she becomes an analyst – and she is well prepared: With her team, she analyzes the injuries of the people involved in the accidents and explains to the Audi technicians which body parts of the passengers had contact with the interior and what injuries were caused by this. This is valuable and important feedback for the developers. Have all the passive safety systems functioned as required? What could be improved? All the findings are sent to the development department, and ultimately they make the next generation of Audi models even safer.
Development of new safety functions
Physicians, psychologists and technicians, all gathered around one table. Before they can “dissect” the accidents, they not only need preliminary work from the psychologists and physicians; the AARU also prepares the accident occurrence meticulously in the run-up to the meeting. Often, a drone is used to take a lot of photos at the site of the accident, which creates a data cloud of the location. Based on this data, the precise analysis of the accident vehicles and the police reports, it is then possible to recreate the accident down to the smallest detail during the meeting.
This is where Kristin Blum comes in. She works on developing predictive safety functions. As an automotive engineering technician, she analyzes accidents based on the technical criteria of existing safety systems in Audi models as well as systems that are still in the development phase at Audi. With regard to the crash between the Audi A5 and Audi A1, she is looking for an answer to the following question: Could an assistance system have prevented the accident or at least minimized its consequences for the passengers? Neither vehicle had an emergency braking system with cross-traffic function on board. Could such a system have prevented the collision? And how would the intelligence of the function have to be programmed to classify the approaching vehicle as an accident risk, warn the driver and apply the brakes?
For Blum, the EDR (Event Data Recorder) is a great help in simulating accidents. This system records the five seconds prior to the airbag being triggered. With the accident analyzed here, the initial speeds were about 50 km/h. Using all the available data, Blum calculates that from the aspect of both cars, an emergency braking system with cross-traffic function would very likely have prevented this accident.
Another accident is being discussed. There is a reason why this case is especially interesting for the Audi technicians: An Audi A3 Sportback e-tron* was severely damaged on impact. In regard to high-voltage vehicles that are involved in an accident, it is of particular interest whether they behave differently from conventional vehicles and whether the rescue chain differs. This case shows that the work of the AARU does not end with a pure analysis of the collision. “The focus is also on the rescue measures after the actual accident. This is especially important with high-voltage vehicles, as the rescue workers should know how to handle electric vehicles so as not to put themselves at risk.” Audi can help here, too.
Get from A to B safely
For more than 20 years, the AARU has investigated and assessed almost 1,500 accidents. Thomas Schenk has been in this business for a long time. He is a true professional when it comes to the on-site investigation work. And one thing is very clear to him: The feedback from the AARU helps improve general traffic safety – for the passengers in an Audi and for everyone else involved. The AARU thus makes an important contribution towards ensuring that all road users get from A to B safely.
* The scenario of these accidents were changed to protect the personal rights of the people involved.