A Perspective on Side Impact Occupant Crash Protection 900373
The NHTSA notices of proposed rulemaking on side impact protection have focused worldwide attention on one of the most difficult and frustrating efforts in automobile crash safety. Traditional vehicle design has evolved obvious structural contrasts between the side of the struck vehicle and the front of the striking vehicle. Protection of near-side occupants from intruding door structure is a most perplexing engineering challenge. Much useful and insightful engineering work has been done in conjunction with NHTSA's proposed rulemaking. However, there are many major engineering issues which demand further definition before reasonable side impact rulemaking test criteria can be finalized.
This paper reviews recent findings which characterize the human factors, biomechanics, and occupant position envelope of the typical side impact crash victim. It discusses economic benefit and cost relationships which appear to put side impact crash protection about an order of magnitude less favorable than frontal protection. The findings of a companion paper regarding the effect of accident reconstruction errors on side impact benefit appraisal are employed to analyze the safety community's inability to measure the effect of countermeasures in practice. The proposal advanced in a second companion paper for a simplified crash test procedure is reviewed, as it pertains to the generation of side impact crush energy data, and its contribution to understanding and designer judgement regarding the efficacy of various countermeasures and overall economic savings.
Suggestions are advanced for improvements needed in test procedures and field accident data-gathering to permit economical achievement and measurement of realistic reductions in side impact injury. Recommendations are also made for the improvement of the side impact reconstruction process employed by the NASS field accident investigators, including a proposal for government/industry cooperative efforts in creating and maintaining a substantially enlarged crush energy data base to serve the future needs of NASS.