I posed this question to the Car Talk guys about 8 years ago and I don’t know whether it ever was answered. When you are stopped in stop-and-go traffic on a busy road and you look into the rear-view mirror to see a vehicle approaching fast, should you step on the brake (or even pull on the emergency brake) or take your foot off the brake (or even try to quickly shift into the car neutral). Which method would lead to the least possible damage?
Taking your foot off the brake and putting it into neutral would cause the least amount of damage to your car, but the most to you. I would put my foot down hard on the brake and brace my head against the headrest and let the insurance company take care of the car. Its easier to fix than me.
BTW, I’ve had my neck broken twice from rearenders that I didn’t see coming, but I saw the last one coming and I did what I suggested and I came through just fine.
They answered this question a couple months ago in their newspaper column: http://www.cartalk.com/content/bracing-impact-it-better-brake
I agree with what they have to say on the topic. It’s better to hold the brake pedal and brace yourself against the seat, including your head against the headrest, plus you don’t sacrifice someone else’s car and well-being by trying to lessen damage to your car by allowing your car to be shoved into their car.
The only wheelie I ever popped on my Triumph motorcycle was taking off through a red light, as there was no cross traffic and skid screams were approaching me from behind.
The idea in short, is to apply your brakes hard which will cause the rear end of your car and the front of the vehicle striking you to crumple more, therefore absorbing more kinetic energy resulting in your car being pushed forward less which reduces the sudden acceleration that you and your passengers must endure. That’s a point in favor of a car with a substantial amount of rear end sheetmetal for the sake of your back seat passengers.
The best idea would probably be to floor it and go through the light or steer out of the way if you could do so safely. I think if you took your foot off the brake, and allowed the car to be pushed forward, that also would use up some kinetic energy though. I did exactly that with minimal damage to my car and no damage to myself when getting rear ended by a Suburban. Since an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest, it may be academic though. Does someone want to submit this to Mythbusters?