In designing the Falcon XT, Ford engineers set out to discover the anatomy of a car crash and found that the accident is typically over before we’re even consciously aware of it happening.
This is a reconstruction of a crash involving a stationary Ford Falcon XT sedan being struck in the driver’s door by another vehicle travelling at 50 km/h [30 mph].
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.
Mind Hacks corroborates these conclusions, stating that the start of concious awareness is typically found to be around 200–300 ms.