Students help medical professionals, researchers study occupant positioning in crashes

Kettering University continues to work with the crash test safety industry and orthopaedic surgeons to improve automobile safety.


Dr. Patrick Atkinson, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering, and a team of orthopaedic residents at McLaren Regional Medical Center, recently worked with Kettering students and industry representatives to measure people in relationship to where they sit in a car.

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"We want to better understand how occupants position themselves with respect to the car interior so that safety features such as airbag restraints can better protect the occupants," Atkinson said. "For example, a large car may be good for a small driver for driving purposes, but bad if they need to sit very close to the steering wheel to work the pedals. This position may put them at risk for an airbag injury."

The research project measured volunteers in three sizes:

  • small women - 5' to 5' 2" and under 110 pounds;
  • average men - 5' 10" to 6'
  • and large men - 6' 3" who weighed more than 200 pounds.

Subjects were asked to sit in the positions used in federal standards for crash safety, and then to adjust the seating to their comfort level for driving and as a passenger. Three vehicles were used to measure volunteers, including a compact sedan, an SUV and a minivan.

The orthopaedic residents provided information on types of injuries most common in car accidents, and could help identify areas in the test vehicles most likely to come into contact with people of different heights during a crash. The most common injury resulting from front end crashes is knee injury, said Atkinson. In most front-end crashes the front seat occupants' knees tend to come into contact with the dashboard before the airbags deploy, he said.

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Atkinson said future safety features in vehicles will include under-the-dashboard airbags and possibly airbags that prevent passengers from being thrown from a vehicle during a roll-over crash.