How can we better protect children from traffic accidents? For starters, it seems that cracking down on drunk driving might really help; according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than two thirds of the children killed in motor-vehicle crashes were killed while riding with a drinking driver.
It's an unsettling fact. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for children (and those up to age 34), and in 2008 alone, 968 children age 14 or under died in motor-vehicle crashes, according to the CDC.
To help better protect kids in vehicle design, Ford is working on what it's referring to as the world's first child-size crash-test dummy. The automaker is using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at how crash forces affect children, and the automaker is partnering with researchers in China, at Tianjin Children's Hospital and Tianjin University of Science and Technology, to gather data on body geometry for the project. Some of the same latest digital modeling tools that would be used to construct vehicle components are being used to model human surfaces and structures.
As we reported last year, modern crash tests can return some very detailed data. Up to 270 channels of data can be reported from GM's dummies in crash-testing; and in some of the federal government's latest New-Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash tests, 129 channels of data are reported.
The most significant gains in fatalities and injuries, according to safety experts, can be made not by increasing the speeds and forces of crash-testing, but by adding new scenarios, new parameters, and testing for a wider range of body types—which can in turn be used in future vehicle design.
It might be a few years before the new test dummies are finished; it took more than a decade to create the current adult-sized digital models.
The researchers hope to also use the project as a test bed toward building a more accurate, next-generation adult-size test dummy.