By on November 28, 2016

crash test dummies

Since President Johnson signed the bills requiring all passenger vehicles to include safety belts in 1968, they have saved countless lives. However, with over 36 million of today’s American drivers over the age of sixty-five, current seatbelt designs might not pass muster for older bodies. It’s the same reason you don’t see a lot of old people involved in extreme sports or professional wrestling. An aged frame just can’t take the same sort of physical abuse as a malleable younger form.

So, with the elderly and frail in mind, the Ohio State University College of Medicine wants to design new seat belts to better protect older drivers. 

“When seat belts were first designed, they used safety dummies that represented the average driver, which back then was a normal sized 40-year-old man,” said John Bolte, PhD, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at Ohio State, in a statement. “The size and demographics of American drivers has certainly changed, but the basic seat belt designs haven’t, and we need to address that.”

Bolte and company are hoping to help in the development of future seat belt technology, claiming that the current incarnations actually contribute to injuries on the very people they are intended to protect. The Columbus-based team suggest that, even in minor accidents, poorly-fitting belts can cause everything from chest lacerations to broken ribs and a shattered pelvis.

“For a younger driver, these types of injuries are rarely life-threatening,” said Bolte, “But for someone who’s older, a couple of fractured ribs or flailed chest can lead to problems with breathing and even the chance for pneumonia. It can very quickly cause some serious issues.”

Although it isn’t as if the automotive safety industry has sat idle since 1968. The olden days of mandatory lap restraints eventually saw the inclusion of the three point harness and a the restraint pretensioner. A pretensioner effectively retracts a belt in the event of a crash, removing excess slack and restraining the body. However, those advancements did not prevent the shoulder belt from directing a large amounts force onto the chest of an occupant — the very problem John Bolte is hoping to address.

That issue has also, to an extent, been helped with load limiters. In their most basic form, limiters exist as folds stitched into the belt webbing that gives way under heavy load. More complicated load limiters exist as a torsion bar in the retractor. The European New Car Assessment Program ran a test on load limiters paired with a pretensioner in 2003, concluding that the pairing drastically reduced head injuries while minimizing chest acceleration and g-force loads.

More recently, Ford has begun implementing inflatable belts intended to secure passengers while allowing the belt’s force to be distributed more evenly across the chest.

However, most of these safety features take a fairly one-size-fits-all approach and are not infallible. In 2003 General Motors recalled 312,715 vehicles due to their load limiters. The energy-absorbing loop stitched into the belt could introduce an additional 10 inches of webbing in a severe crash and potentially eject the occupant from the vehicle.

It sounds as if Ohio State’s research is keying into who is behind the wheel as much as how they are being restrained in an accident. Preliminary research is focused on just how much abuse an older person’s body can take, and how well modern restraint technology copes with that fragility. Thankfully, they will be relying upon specially modified dummies for testing and not geriatric volunteers.

“Once we understand the position of the driver or passenger in the crash, we will be able to better understand where injuries are most likely occur,” said Bolte. “That information can be used to improve seat belts, airbags, even the entire safety system, especially for older, more vulnerable drivers.”

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34 Comments on “How Much Abuse Can Old People Take? New Study Plans to Find Out...”


  • avatar
    yamahog

    5 point racing harnesses, hans devices, and enough headroom for large men to wear helmets in sedans and coupes please.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Eff this passive stuff. Give us roof turrets and let us use them!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’d think Volvo should already already working on this if it were an important aspect, and perhaps they are.

    Behind this issue of the aged people’s fragility in crashes lies another, larger problem. Millions of age 65+ people on the roads who are much too fragile in mind and body to be driving. And how many of these severe crashes and injuries are caused because of their diminished senses/reaction/spatial awareness? I’m betting it’s lots.

    (Both of my grandmothers aged 75 and 80 are still driving, and neither of them really has any business being on the road with other people.)

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Oh yes Corey, your absolutely right . Now go find me a politician that is willing to push for that sort of legislation . Pi$$ing off old people ? Never a good plan if you want to get re elected .

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Mandatory driver competency testing every five years, starting at the license renewal age 65 or renewal at nearest birthday. Fee associated with such testing is equal to the fee one pays for new driver testing at age 16/18. Failure means your license goes on probation perhaps, and you’ve got one more chance in a month to get yourself up to code.

        I’m running on the Politics Of Common Sense platform.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          This is why AV cars are so essential. The purpose isn’t to force competent drivers to accept a new regime, but to allow mobility for the frail and to automate routine tasks.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I firmly believe the -only- end result of the AV is a forced regime where everyone’s in one.

            -Legislators
            -Insurance
            -Safety groups
            -Parents
            -Medical field

            None of these people want you driving your own risky car once an AV is available.

        • 0 avatar
          Silent Ricochet

          This. Please. Corey for President!

          Seriously though. The elderly need to retake their drivers tests at 65 at least. If your eyes, ears, and reaction speeds are all extremely diminished, how is that any different from driving drunk? The only difference is one is a choice. It doesn’t detract from the fact that they’re both dangerous.

          Fear probably plays into their driving behavior as well. This is, in my opinion, the biggest factor when it comes to the amount of horrible driving on the road today. If America’s roads were full of confident, attentive drivers instead of distracted teens and older individuals that beep at me and slam on their brakes every time I’m slowly backing down my driveway towards the road, the world would be a better place.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Corey for president and Cadillacs for all!

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “older individuals that beep at me and slam on their brakes every time I’m slowly backing down my driveway towards the road”

            That’s me!

            How an I supposed to know you’re sentient and processing perceptual data? Many people aren’t.

            My biggest problem with driving now is that I’m 5X more fearful from umpty years of having seen so many lobotomized ass-clowns on the road and the creative stupidities they pull.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          In BC mandatory competency testing starts at 80 years old and is then every two years after that.

          Statistically 1/3 of drivers should not have a licence so we should see mandatory testing/screening for everyone regardless of age.

          I have to prove competency on a yearly basis to keep my professional licencing intact. More people die due to driving than due to medical errors and for most people, driving is the most dangerous task they will ever perform.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Skimmel

        I’ve a mind to pack my aching 66 year old body into my Miata and sent it propelling through CoryDL’s window. I feel better now, where’s my lap blanket?

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I understand that. As her primary caretaker, I confiscated the keys to the Kia after Grandma went missing for 22 hours because she was confused and drove to the wrong house; she’s not getting them back for a while, if at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      “Behind this issue of the aged people’s fragility in crashes lies another, larger problem. Millions of age 65+ people on the roads who are much too fragile in mind and body to be driving. And how many of these severe crashes and injuries are caused because of their diminished senses/reaction/spatial awareness? I’m betting it’s lots.”

      The biggest risk factor for elderly drivers is dementia. They can compensate for other reductions in ability but not for that. All it takes to identify such a driver is the paper test that precedes a road text. The questions are irrelevant. Just taking the test will exceed their mental ability.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “Just taking the test will exceed their mental ability.”

        There is an electoral metaphor in there somewhere!

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        “The biggest risk factor for elderly drivers is dementia.”

        Don’t discount its opposite: hypermentation.

        I f*cking fear everything because I’ve seen everything. I KNOW the majority of you are dysfunctional and distracted by phones, drugs (including booze), hormones, kids, daydreaming, rank inexperience, laziness/perpetual lateness and absent all these, innate stupidity.

        And I’m increasingly dysfunctional from the fear produced by constant awareness of the above.

        AVs are the only answer. Or roof turrets.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I wish they did this study 10 years ago and had already incorporated into my car. My only hope is self driving cars or Uber comes to my small town.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I think it’s a little misleading to say designs haven’t changed – they use pre-tensioners and adjust based on seat position and (in the case of the driver) steering wheel position now, so there’s been some improvement there. That being said, I’m sure there must be better available load distribution models now that may well show us the three point (or even four point!) harness can be improved upon. Weren’t both of those designs more or less standardised pre-computer modelling?

  • avatar
    Paragon

    Depends what your definition of old is. Both of my next-door neighbors, one 91 and the other 93, are still driving…around town.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      Now, I wouldn’t expect either of them to make a road-trip to Florida or even Myrtle Beach, unless someone else is driving. And, the likelihood of either of them buying a new car is also pretty slim.

      As for myself, last fall drove straight through from Central Ohio to Dallas, stopping only for fuel. Did the same to return home. Not sure how many more years I’ll be able to pull that stunt, which I’ve done a number of times in the past. But, I can always stop at a motel, if need be. And, I am over the age of 60.

  • avatar
    sneustadter1

    I find most of these comments beneath contempt and raising issues as to the coherence of the blog. Look at the statistics on those involved in crashes. Look at the “wide range” of folks driving overpowered and often bizarre cars and trucks. Fast driving is challenging, off roading is great and my ’67 MGB is a blast. Get real ladies and gentlemen…

  • avatar
    doublechili

    Re: the topic at hand, based on societal healthcare cost analysis we should want elderly people driving 1960s cars with lap belts and metal dashboards, right? I’ve heard that on NPR dozens of times, paraphrased of course.

    Re: the other topic (driving ability of the elderly), when I’m on the road old people are the least of my problems. Truly dangerous stupidity is the domain of the young to middle-aged. Or, to put it another way, you don’t need dementia to fail to foresee the consequences of your actions. Bigly.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      While I tend to avoid generalizations based on age and the like, I’d have to say that I tend to agree with you. In regards to truly dangerous stupidity and the young to middle-aged. Except that sometimes I find that the crazy, maniacal speed demons who tailgate me until they have the opportunity to pass are in their 60s and 70s. Seriously, at their age they haven’t yet mellowed out? Or, they drink too much coffee, or they are always running late? My observations for this year is that it doesn’t seem to matter what the posted speed limit is, people want to ALWAYS run 10 to 15 over the limit. Even when the city street is posted at 25MPH as it’s residential with little kids around. I’ll be honest, especially in the 25 MPH zones, I drive the exact limit forcing all the nut-cases behind me to slow down, and I know it really pisses them off. It’s for the kids, you know. I mean, at times I get the feeling almost everybody on the road thinks they are some kind of amateur race car driver with superior driving skills, such that the speed limit laws don’t apply to them. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but my job involves driving. Consequently, the risk of getting a speeding ticket absolutely has to be avoided at all times. And, now you know…the rest of the story

  • avatar
    Edsel

    Research is also needed for those of us that do not fit into the designed safety “envelope”. I’m 6’5″ tall and often ponder where my extremities and torso have crossed the margins of my vehicle’s safety space. Is my head too close to the roof’s crush zone? Are my knees too close to the dash?

  • avatar
    MrBostn

    65 is a bit young, 70 seems more reasonable to me.

  • avatar
    Joss

    GM bring back Olds and build it appropriately.

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