Not only has the average adult gotten heavier, but people are continuing to drive at later ages. According to the US Department of Transportation, there were 40 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in 2015, representing 18.4% of the American driving population, or nearly one in five drivers. In 2014, more than 5,700 older adults were killed in automobile accidents and over 236,000 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries in auto crashes – that’s about 16 older adults killed and 648 injured every day.
Michigan-based Humanetics, which has specialized in the design of crash test dummies since the 1950s, is working to prevent those injuries and fatalities by developing crash test dummies – or, as they’re more technically called, anthropomorphic test devices (ATD) – based on the physiology of older humans. As the bodies of elderly people are much different from those of younger people, they’re likely to sustain very different types of injuries in crashes, and that has to be accounted for in automobile safety testing, says Humanetics.
“As the demographics of the driving population continues to evolve, our crash test dummies and the test equipment that we design & manufacture must continue to evolve at the same rate,” says Christopher J. O’Connor, President & CEO of Humanetics. “Let’s not forget the more vulnerable drivers on the road and provide a product that the car manufacturers, government agencies and research groups around the world can use to design and test a safer car for people of all sizes and ages.”
Using research from the International Center for Automotive Medicine (ICAM) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), Humanetics has begun working to develop an ATD design based on the physiology of a small, 70-year-old female driver. With the anthropomorphic data produced by UMTRI, plus some hardware cues from the small female WorldSID (Worldwide harmonized Side Impact Dummy) combined with a new organ system design, the new Elderly ATD will better show the internal injuries likely to be sustained by a small elderly female in a side-impact crash.
“The condition, size and shape of an individual is hugely important in how severe their injuries are in any given crash,” says Michigan Medicine trauma surgeon Stewart Wang, M.D., Ph.D.
In addition to working closely with ICAM to better understand the impact of automotive accidents on certain anatomical features, Humanetics is using 3D printing technology on the Elderly ATD to research and develop production methods that result in more precise responses than traditionally manufactured ATDs. The company also offers 3D CAD models of several of their existing ATDs for use in vehicle packaging studies.
Humanetics is extending their work outside the US, as well. The company is involved in the SENIORS (Safety ENhancing Innovations for Older Road userS) project, which is being funded by the EU to address similar issues in driving populations elsewhere. While many people are reassured by automobile safety ratings, they rarely realize that the testing carried out on those automobiles may not reflect the impact of accidents on their own particular body types. Humanetics intends to collaborate with other safety organizations around the world to develop ATDs that reflect the varied members of the driving population, allowing automobile manufacturers to build the safest possible cars for all ages and sizes.
“We are very pleased with the advancement of safety features in cars today as we have come a long way, but it can’t stop until we eliminate fatalities on our highways worldwide,” says O’Connor.
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