Wreckage is piled up outside the home of Helen Indiere on Tuesday, a day after drunk driver Sophia Anderson drove a Mercedes through the house. Credit: New York Daily News Archive/Getty
Vehicles and buildings had a couple of unfriendly meetings last week. In Long Island, N.Y., a woman was arrested for DWI after . A few days later, a runaway truck in Minnesota but left the bar standing (albeit with a gaping hole in the side).
So we wondered: How hard is it for a car to travel all the way through a building? And how likely is it that the building survives the vehicular smash-up without collapsing? The answers came from , a professional engineer in Westchester County, New York, who says, "It's basically like a bowling ball hitting a pin. The same kinds of forces are at work here."
First of all, no ordinary home wall could withstand the full force of a car. With standard wood-frame construction, only a few nails at the ends of each weight-bearing piece of wood hold it all together. "Each nail is only good for about 70 or 80 pounds," Davis says. "There's not a ton of resistance there." A 4000-pound car going 20 miles per hour will have more than enough force to overpower those nails as it barrels into a house. "There's just no way a car is going to bounce off of a home's wall," Davis says. "They aren't built that way."
But, Davis says, even if a car is traveling at a higher speed when it slams into a house, that's no guarantee that the building will collapse. It all depends upon where in the house the car hits. Many homes, such as the ranch house Sophia Anderson allegedly drove through on Long Island, are designed so that both the back and the front walls are nonweight bearing. The sidewalls support the full weight of the home.
If the driver manages to go straight through the front of the house without hitting a side wall, they could get out through the back without causing a full collapse, Davis says. Most cars are only about 7 or 8 feet wide, and usually these kinds of homes have nearly 15 feet of room between weight-bearing walls. But if the car brushes one of those walls, Davis says, the whole thing could come tumbling down.