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Vehicle Fall and Flip Motions

December 19th 2022

In traffic crashes, vehicles can travel sometimes partially through the air. This motion can usually be considered as a fall, flip, vault, or rollover. The speed of the vehicle when it first left the ground might be determined if certain information is known, such as the point where the vehicle left the ground and the point where it first came back into contact with the ground.


A fall occurs when a vehicle is traveling forward and is no longer supported by the surface it is moving over. When the fall starts, the vehicle can be traveling on an upgrade, a downgrade, or a level surface or it could be sideslipping. Rotation during a fall is gradual and the vehicle usually lands right side up.


Flips occur when vehicles are moving sideways and the resistance at the tires is sufficient to cause the vehicle to rise and move through the air. This motion is typically caused by the wheels hitting a curb or furrowing in loose material. Rotation during a flip is rapid and the vehicle usually lands upside down.

Vaults are endwise flips. For a vault to occur, the forward movement of part of the vehicle must stop. The line of force must be fairly low on the vehicle (below its center of mass) for the vehicle to vault. Then the front part of the vehicle momentarily stops relative to the ground while the rest of the vehicle continues forward. If the speed is great enough, the center of mass will lift, and the vehicle will travel through the air.


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