Kettering's Crash Safety Center

First of its kind

Crashing a party during college is something many students might enjoy. Crashing a high level academic course during the school term is an altogether different story. But with a new course offered through Kettering's Mechanical Engineering (ME) Dept., ME majors may start to think that investigating car accidents might be something they find advantageous as automotive companies seek better ways to prevent occupant injuries in vehicle collisions.

For the past two terms, Kettering's Mechanical Engineering Dept. has offered MECH-551: Vehicular Crash Dynamics and Accident Reconstruction and according to faculty, it may be the only course of its kind available to undergraduate students in the country. Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering, along with Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, teach this class, which instructs students on the following subjects:

  • two and three-dimensional dynamics of vehicular crash;
  • the application of linear and angular movement principles to vehicular impact;
  • the application of energy principle to vehicular impact;
  • estimation of crash energy from vehicular crush profiles;
  • vehicular crash pulse analysis;
  • dynamics of rollover and pole collision;
  • crash data recorder (CDR) analysis; and
  • special topics in accident investigation forensics.

Although the topics may seem somewhat convoluted and difficult for most people to comprehend, the study of these areas add up to one thing: young, educated engineers trained on how to reconstruct accidents to investigate better methods to protect occupants in future automobiles. Specifically, some of the learning objectives for this course include students applying the principle of energy conservation to computer crash energy; determining the path of occupants with respect to the vehicle interior once a collision has occurred; and learning several techniques for collecting forensics material at an accident scene.

According to Tavakoli, this class is perhaps the first of its kind in the state and throughout the country to offer a comprehensive opportunity for undergraduate Mechanical Engineering majors to examine accidents and learn from them. This is a crucial course to offer in the history of the University, since the new Crash Test Safety Laboratory in the C.S. Mott Engineering and Science Center is well on its way and offers state-of-the-art research facilities for crash test safety education and research. Students will engage in coursework supported by research conducted in the crash lab. With Kettering's increasing work in the area of crash safety and accident reconstruction, this course further compliments the ME major by providing employers highly skilled engineers with crash safety and accident reconstruction experience.

For Tavakoli, this course and the associated work in the Crash Test Safety Lab represent important steps for the school as Kettering continues making a mark in this field.

"I envision Kettering as the place for the study of crash safety and accident reconstruction," he explained. "We are strongly committed to making the lab an integral part of our curriculum at Kettering and feel that if we can train engineers to thoroughly understand the root of most accidents through reconstruction and analysis, we can graduate engineers who are capable of helping to produce cars and trucks that are increasingly safer."

Tavakoli also said that the entire automotive industry, including those companies that work in the crash safety field, could look upon Kettering as a one-stop shop where they can utilize the University's state-of-the-art research facilities, discuss sponsored research opportunities with faculty and interview, as well as hire, highly educated cooperative education students with experience in fields such as crash safety and accident reconstruction. TRW Automotive, for example, provided funding for the crash test safety lab of more than $30,000 in 2004 alone and currently employs several Kettering cooperative education students, while Robert A. Denton, Inc., of Rochester Hills, Mich., donated in 2004 a 50th percentile anthropomorphic test device (ATD)-otherwise known as a crash test dummy affectionately named SpartaKUs. Additionally, current contributors to the lab include Takata, AAA of Michigan, General Motors Corp., Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Biomet, Autoliv, Lear, and Via Systems. These donations and the involvement of these well-known firms help to establish Kettering as one of the up and coming resources in the area of crash test safety and accident reconstruction.

"We started offering the course last term and feel it really gives students an important exposure to the field of crash test research," Tavakoli noted. "More importantly, as we continue to develop the crash safety curriculum, we will expand on this and other related courses to meet the needs of the industry while enhancing the education and talents of our students as they enter the workforce as highly skilled and experienced engineers."

To learn more about Kettering's MECH-551: Vehicular Crash Dynamics and Accident Reconstruction course or the Crash Safety Laboratory, visit the Mechanical Engineering website at, or call (800) 955-4484.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538