The Elephant Effect

What is the Elephant Effect?

You have possibly heard of stories of drivers being fined for having their shopping on the back seat of the car, or for having a dog incorrectly secured, and other similar reasons, and the question always arises as to why.

We can explain the most common reason for these fines being education through enforcement to raise awareness of a very serious problem, and like all traffic law it is because it is unsafe, as you will see when we explain a phenomenon known as the “elephant effect”.

The Elephant Effect is the result of the laws of physics that cause an object thrown at high speed to multiply its weight compared to if it were stationary. This means that any loose object inside the vehicle becomes a dangerous projectile that puts the safety of the occupants of the vehicle at risk in case of harsh braking or a sudden stop in the event of a collision. To explain it another way, even though your vehicle may slow down or stop abruptly, loose objects will continue to move in the direction of travel driven by the momentum and will weigh more than if they were sat still.

When we talk about loose objects, we don´t only mean shopping, or animals, the same applies to people who are not secured, such as rear seat passengers, which is where the “Elephant Effect” becomes more apparent, as if a passenger in the back seat is thrown forward through a collision their weight may multiply to around 4,000 kilos, the weight of an elephant.

Let us talk about the science bit. A loose object inside the car can multiply its weight by between 30 and 50 times in a crash at 50 kilometres per hour.

Here we have some examples of what that means:

A box of bottles weighing 18 kilos will impact the windshield with the same force as if a cow of 540 kilos.

A suitcase of only five kilos, will hit the driver with the same force that a 150 kilos lion would.

A beach umbrella, weighing three kilos, would be propelled and hit with the same force as a 90-kilo wild boar.

An umbrella that only weighs 415 grams would weigh five kilos

And what many vehicle occupants have loose in the car, the mobile phone, weighing in at around 150 grams, but if it were propelled forward in a collision the Elephant Effect would turn it into a projectile capable of hitting with a force of 1.5 kilos.

Avoiding the Elephant Effect is easier than you might think. Firstly, ensure that groceries, luggage, bags etc are carried securely in the boot.

Secondly, for other loose items such as sunglasses, chargers, mints etc, use the glove box or the side pockets in the doors. Many vehicles have pockets in the seats for rear-seated passengers to use, and so use them.

As for your mobile, make sure that is also securely stowed, out of sight and harm´s way if you are not using it for mapping services but if you are then make sure it is in a secure location, using an approved cradle, and where it also doesn’t interfere with your primary field of vision.