Impact may have doomed Mercedes, despite safety features
September 1, 1997
Web posted at: 11:21 p.m. EDT (0321 GMT)
From Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten
DETROIT (CNN) -- The specially engineered Mercedes S280 sedan
in which Princess Diana and two other people died had at
least eight safety systems, reflecting some of the most
advanced technologies in the world. Yet Sunday's crash
reduced the car to a crumpled, flattened tangle of steel.
On impact, the radiator was shoved back into the front seat.
One leading safety expert said the fatal element of the
accident may not have been so much the speed of the car, but
the angle of impact.
"One of the impacts was to the roof, and if you're going to
have an impact, that's probably one of the last places you want to have a car hit, because the structure there is probably the least able to absorb energy," safety expert
Ralph Hoar said.
All Mercedes S-Class cars have been equipped with front and
side air bags as standard equipment since 1996. They also
have reinforcement in the chassis, including extra-sturdy
roofs to prevent collapse in a normal accident.
The car in which Diana was traveling had front and rear seat
belts, although it's unclear whether she and companion Dodi
Fayed were wearing them. It might not have made a difference.
"We know that seat belts save lives. We don't know whether
in this particular instance, we don't know whether the seat
belt would have protected against roof crush. Probably not,"
The car was equipped with air bags, although they only
protected those in the front seats. Diana and Dodi Fayed were
sitting in the back.
One system designed to help, if driver loses control
Other safety features of the S280 include energy-absorbing
front and rear sections called crumple zones, anti-lock
brakes and electronic traction control.
The S280 also has a sophisticated electronic-sensing system
called ESP, or Electronic Stability Program, which monitors
wheel speed, and senses what direction the driver wants to
steer and the speed at which the car will round a corner
If the driver is losing control, the ESP will apply the
brakes to individual wheels to stabilize the vehicle; it even
can automatically adjust the throttle to keep the car on
It might be worthwhile for investigators to take a look at
the S280 that Diana and her party were riding in.
"Paparazzi and high speed aside, the driver is apparently
accustomed to driving under high speeds and under a variety
of adverse conditions, and it strikes me as unusual that the
vehicle would have gone out of control as it did," Hoar said.
All those safety systems -- yet three lives were lost. Why?
A spokesman for Mercedes-Benz called the crash
"catastrophic," too much even for all the car's
sophisticated safety systems.
Indeed, Hoar points out that given the suspected high speed
of the car before the crash, not even a $100,000 vehicle
could guarantee survival.
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