The energy absorption capability of a composite material is important in developing improved human safety in an automotive crash. In passenger vehicles, the ability to absorb impact energy and be survivable for the occupant is called the crashworthiness of the structure. The crashworthiness in terms of the specific energy absorption (SEA) of a chopped carbon fiber (CCF) composite material system was compared with that of other fiber resin systems such as graphite/epoxy cross-ply laminates (CP#1 and CP#2), a graphite/epoxy-braided material system (O), and a glass-reinforced continuous-strand mat (CSM). The quantity of these material systems needed to ensure passenger safety in a midsize car traveling at various velocities was calculated and compared. The SEA of the chopped carbon fiber composite material was the highest compared to that of all the other composites investigated. It was calculated that only 4.27 kg of it would need to be placed at specific places in the car to ensure passenger safety in the event of a crash at 15.5 m/s (35 mph). This clearly led to an important practical conclusion that only a reasonable amount of this composite material is required to meet the necessary impact performance standard. The CCF composite tested at 5 mm/min crushing speed met both the criteria that need to be satisfied before a material is deemed highly crashworthy: A high magnitude of energy absorption and a safe allowable rate of this energy absorption. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci 92: 3218–3225, 2004
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