The positively delightful webcomic XKCD has a history of presenting deep ideas in a simple manner or, when all else fails, creating mole planets. But this week the site's "What if?" section tackles a particularly thorny automotive question: How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?
(Before the answer, a brief disclaimer. Killing yourself is something I do NOT recommend, as I have a general policy against suicide. You also need my permission to do it beforehand and I am never giving that out so you'll just have to sit there and deal with that. Consider yourself disclaimed.)
The answer, it turns out, is not so simple, mostly because you'll probably end up doing more serious damage to the car than to yourself, even at high speeds. For argument's sake XKCD puts an average family sedan's top speed at 120 MPH, and while that's certainly on the low end, it's not implausible. It turns out at those speeds you may cause some back damage, and you may just cause a big crash (which would kill you on its own), so to really do yourself in you'll need to go faster.
Quite a bit faster, in fact.
If you really feel like killing yourself using a speed bump, you'll probably need to end up going so fast that you'll just get airborne before you even hit the speed bump, thus causing an inevitable crash anyways. And even if you managed to keep it on the ground, your average family sedan may run into other problems:
If you kept the car from taking off, the force of the wind at those speeds would strip away the the hood, side panels, and windows. At higher speeds, the car itself would be disassembled, or even burn up like a spacecraft reentering the atmosphere.
As an added bonus, there's a fun little mathematical tidbit at the end. It wouldn't be XKCD without one.
Photo credit: veggie frog