Improving safety in vehicles for all European citizens
Road accidents killed almost 35 000 people in the European Union's 27 member states in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available. While this number represents a fall of 38% since the start of the 21st century, there is still great scope to improve vehicle safety in Europe.
Until now, adult crash test dummies used to mimic how humans are affected by impact have all replicated an 'average' male human body. In fact, researchers are now starting to realise crash impacts have widely differing effects on people depending on factors such as age, sex and size. The old 'average' approach is no longer adequate.
Those involved in the design, testing and regulation of car safety features – from seat belts to child seats, to the structural features of the vehicle itself – need to know in detail how various types of impact affect different vehicle occupants depending on their individual physical characteristics. Only by knowing precisely how injuries occur in the body can safety features be designed to provide optimal protection against those injuries.
For instance, explains Paul Lemmen of Humanetics, who acts as coordinator across a series of EU vehicle safety research projects, there is a significant difference in the shape of the thorax between slender and more well-built people. This fact alone fundamentally changes the pattern of injury in a crash.
The same variation occurs between men and women, with crash impacts having different effects on males and females because of their differences in shape and build. Because crash test dummies have been based on the 'average' male, women are at greater risk of torso injuries than men in vehicle crashes.
As well as providing new understanding of the ways in which individual characteristics (age, height, weight etc) affect injury, EU research projects have also focused on developing new tools to allow industry to explore these differences in greater depth and incorporate them into safer products for the citizen. Chief among these has been the development of a series of new crash test dummies representing a much wider variety of body types, so that designers can understand how these different body types will actually respond to a crash.
One of them is a female rear impact dummy, named EvaRID, which supplements the only currently available dummy model that is based on an average male person when evaluating whiplash injury protection. Another area of particular importance here is child safety, with one EU project delivering a new dummy to replicate children aged 10 to 12 – something which had not previously been available.
In addition to physical dummies, EU researchers have also developed ground-breaking new computer models of the human body. Taken in conjunction with the information provided by the physical dummies, these models allow safety designers to understand exactly how the body and internal organs are affected by specific crash impacts – for example, how the pattern of bone injury might affect soft tissue internal organs.
The results of this strand of European research are now being assessed for implementation in regulations set by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and for incorporation in consumer safety tests conducted by the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP).
Project acronym: CASPER
Participants: France (Coordinator), Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, United Kingdom
Proj. N° 218564
Total costs: € 5 848 881
EU contribution: € 3 854 265
Duration: April 2009 - May 2012
Project acronym: EPOCH
Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator), Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Slovenia, Singapore
Proj. N° 266660
Total costs: € 1 477 603
EU contribution: € 1 150 012
Duration: November 2011 - October 2012
Project acronym: THOMO
Participants: France (Coordinator), Czech Republic, Poland
Proj. N° 218643
Total costs: € 2 655 175
EU contribution: € 2 065 269
Duration: January 2009 - October 2012
Project acronym: THORAX
Participants: Germany (Coordinator), France, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom
Proj. N° 218516
Total costs: € 5 052 558
EU contribution: € 2 968 850
Duration: February 2009 - April 2013
Project acronym: ADSEAT
Participants: Sweden (Coordinator), Switzerland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, United Kingdom