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Impact and injury patterns in frontal crashes of vehicles with good ratings for frontal crash protection

Brumbelow, Matthew L.; Zuby, David S.
Proceedings of the 21st International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles (CD-ROM)
June 2009

Modern vehicle designs tested as part of US consumer information programs achieve high ratings for frontal crash protection. Research is needed to determine how these Tests can be upgraded to further improve occupant protection in real-world frontal crashes. The present study is a detailed analysis of real-world cases with serious injuries resulting from frontal crashes of vehicles rated good for frontal crash protection. Queries of 2000-06 data from the National Automotive Sampling System-Crashworthiness Data System produced 116 occupants meeting selection criteria. These were drivers and right front passengers who sustained serious injuries in frontal crashes despite being coded as belted. Patterns of vehicle impact and occupant injury were categorized and discussed in the context of potential upgrades to current crash tests. Asymmetric or concentrated loading across the vehicle front ften resulted in occupant compartment intrusion and associated injury. However, just as many occupants were in crashes without substantial intrusion and were injured by restraint system forces or impacts with the vehicle interior not prevented by restraints. Crashes producing injury without intrusion involved multiple impacts more than twice as often. Future test programs promoting structural designs that absorb energy across a wider range of impacts, such as small overlap, could reduce serious injuries in frontal crashes. Further restraint system improvements may require technologies that adapt to occupant and crash circumstances. It is unclear what types of full-scale crash testing would encourage these improvements.