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Mercedes Roll Simulator review

David Ludlow
11 May 2011

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To protect the occupants, a car's passenger compartment is designed to stay as intact as possible during a crash. This effort is wasted if, having rolled their car, passengers unclip the seatbelt and fall on their head, which can lead to neck and spine injuries.

Mercedes-Benz thinks drivers need training on how to act if they end up on their roof, so has built a simulator for the purpose. In the back of Mercedes-Benz World in Brooklands sits a C-Class with a huge spar thrust through its middle, hoisted up in the air like a pig on a spit. This is the Roll Simulator.

You sit in a normal C-Class seat and clip into a standard three-point seatbelt. An electric motor then turns the car slowly through 180 degrees until the wheels face the ceiling. By this point you are hanging from the seatbelt, painfully aware of just how heavy you are when your body is suspended by two straps. Most of the weight is taken by the lap belt, which is tightest across your protruding hip-bones.

To make things more comfortable, Mercedes recommends you take two steps: put your feet up on the dashboard and push backwards into the seat to take some of the weight, and cross your hands behind your head and press your elbows against the roof. If you want to leave the car, you can brace with your legs and one hand, then use the other to unclip your seatbelt and lower yourself down.

Interior

Put your feet either side of the steering wheel to take the strain off your lap belt

Your elbows also take the strain off your neck if your head happens to be touching the ceiling. Even with our 6' 3" height we weren't in danger of taking any strain on our neck vertebrae, as the seatbelt held us tight. Our seatbelt was pulled tight manually (the C-Class on a spit doesn't have a battery) but standard cars have automatic pre-tensioners- when you put the key in the ignition the seatbelt tightens slightly to make sure there's a snug fit. We tried out the system in a standard E-Class, and felt it tighten very slightly when we turned the key.

As well as keeping you in your seat, Mercedes-Benz cars have a couple of other features to help keep you safe if you manage to flip your car. An automatic fuel cut-off stops fuel flowing from the fuel pump to cut down on the risk of fire, while the car will shut its windows automatically if it detects a roll to stop you losing an arm.

Rolled from side

By the time you get this far over the windows will have shut automatically to stop you losing your arms

To help you get out the car's doors unlock and windows open when the car is upside-down, but Mercedes has a car that goes one better - if you roll the gullwing-door SLS AMG, explosive bolts will blow the hinges out.

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