Alumnus Part of Team Developing New Vehicle Safety Protocols

Sushant Jagtap
The research project at Kettering gave me good exposure and a nice, deep insight into the automotive safety industry and what goes into that research.

- Sushant Jagtap

Dr. Pat Atkinson, Sushant Jagtap and Dr. Theresa Atkinson.

FROM LEFT: Dr. Pat Atkinson, Sushant Jagtap and Dr. Theresa Atkinson.

Sushant Jagtap MS ‘19 always had a passion for automotive safety, which is one reason why he chose Kettering University to earn his Master’s degree.

The 2019 Automotive Systems (now Mobility Systems) graduate is now part of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) team whose research led to the development of a new crash test, the first of its kind in the United States. The IIHS updated its longest-running crash test, the moderate overlap front evaluation, in 2022 to include the evaluation of the rear-seat passengers and ensure protection for rear occupants matches what’s available to front-seat occupants.

“I’m working with the other teams to conduct research and develop protocols that fill the gaps in automotive safety in the U.S.,” Jagtap said. “We identified a gap between protection provided to the front- and rear-seat occupants in frontal crashes. From real-world crash data, we know the average size of passengers in the rear seat and that the head, neck and chest are the most commonly injured body regions. We conducted crash tests in-house with dummies and developed a protocol that targets the injuries we see in the real world and challenges automotive companies to improve protection for rear-seat passengers.” 

Jagtap’s experience collecting crash-test data started as a research assistant with Drs. Theresa and Pat Atkinson at Kettering University. The Atkinsons’ work focused on child safety in booster seats.

“The research project at Kettering gave me good exposure and a nice, deep insight into the automotive safety industry and what goes into that research,” Jagtap said. “I got to present this research at a conference. My time at Kettering taught me the necessary skills to have a successful career in this field. Both Theresa and Pat are highly experienced and well-versed in what they do. Working on a research project with them was definitely the highlight of my master’s program.”   

The research project focused on safely transporting children with hip spica casts (due to surgery or to heal from fracture) because due to center belt/strap designs, some child safety seats couldn’t accommodate children with a cast. Based on their research, the team made recommendations on seat characteristics to look for when selecting a seat for a child with a hip spica cast.

Jagtap also worked with the physicians on-site to cast the dummies and prepare and position the dummies for testing. He helped conduct the test, collect data to locate the dummy in the 3D coordinate system and analyze the data to compare injuries to kids with body casts to those without and how they changed based on the seat designs.

“Working in the Kettering University Crash Safety Center was my favorite part,” Jagtap said. “It was fun and so different from a typical classroom environment. This hands-on experience with crash testing proved to be very valuable during my job hunt and the initial stages of my career.”

Jagtap began working with the IIHS, an independent, non-profit organization, as an intern in 2019 after earning his Master’s degree. Six months later, he accepted a full-time position as a research engineer. 

Ultimately, Jagtap analyzes the data from various tests and makes those connections to what makes a good performance for a vehicle and what makes a poor performance. His favorite part of the job is conducting and analyzing crash tests.

“Multiple people put hours into preparing a vehicle for a crash test, and it’s exciting that all of those hours are for an event that happens within 3/10 of a second,” Jagtap said. “As a research engineer, I get to analyze the data and high-speed videos from that fraction of a second to understand how the different safety systems can protect the occupants and study how we can improve them.”

Only two of 15 small SUVs tested and four of 13 mid-size SUVs received a good rating. Next, the team will release ratings for small and midsize cars and pickup trucks.

Jagtap predicts one of the first changes will be seat belt technology in the rear seats. Advanced belt technologies, such as crash tensioners and load limiters, are standard in front seats but not widely available in some rear seats. In 2020, about 40% of vehicles in the U.S. had this advanced belt technology in their back seats, Jagtap said. During a crash, these technologies help effectively slow the passenger while preventing excessive loading by the seatbelt.

In response to this new test, changes can be expected in manufacturers’ next model cycle, which could be as early as 2024 for some. Some of the changes include alterations to the seat design or seat belt technology. Some vehicle manufacturers have already begun rolling out new designs. 

Still, it’s not as simple as moving the front-seat technology to the back because it needs to be adapted for the back seat’s environment, such as protecting passengers of various sizes, including children.

Jagtap said it will take a couple of years to gauge the impact of the changes as real-world data becomes available.

He suggested consumers compare safety technology and performance when looking for a new or used vehicle. Some of the useful technologies include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and crash tensioners. To find out how these technologies performed during tests, visit the IIHS website at

“This not only includes information about how safe the vehicle is in a crash but also how effectively it is able to avoid or mitigate one with the help of technologies such as automatic emergency braking,” Jagtap said.

The IIHS 2023 Top Safety Picks are available at to select the best vehicle options for safety within size categories.

"The field/industry allows me to combine my personal interest in automobiles and technology with a meaningful career platform to reduce injuries and deaths in automobile crashes," Jagtap said.