[ASC-media] Child crash test dummies not crashworthy?
niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Thu Jul 3 05:24:15 CEST 2008
Here is the latest story from Fresh Science 2008
Child crash test dummies not crashworthy?
3 July 2008
We're not protecting young car passengers as well as we could, according
to researchers at Sydney's Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute.
They've shown that the spine of a young child is significantly different
from that of an adult in ways which could influence the risk of spinal
cord injury and the results of crash testing. And they've called for new
crash dummy designs that better mimic what happens to a real child in a
"Our studies have found huge differences in flexibility and stiffness
between young and mature spines. And in a collision, a younger, more
flexible, spine is likely to place greater strain on the spinal cord
inside," says Elizabeth (Liz) Clarke, a researcher at the Institute.
Car crashes are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries in
Australia. Such injuries can lead to permanent paralysis. Fortunately
only about two percent of these injuries are in young children. The wide
use of child restraints is probably reducing the risk.
Young children, however, may be more susceptible to spinal cord damage
than these statistics would lead us to believe, says Liz. "We've found
that the young spine is softer and about three times more flexible than
that of an adult. Because the young spine allows more overall movement,
the spinal cord inside may be stretched to a higher degree. So, it is
possible that a much smaller impact would be required to cause spinal
cord damage in a poorly or unprotected child than an adult.
"Also, while it is extremely rare in adults for the spinal cord to be
damaged without fracturing the vertebrae, it is not uncommon in spinal
cord injuries in young children, possibly due to this increased
Liz and her colleagues believe that the higher risk for younger children
is hidden as they are less likely to be exposed to dangerous driving,
and are better protected in the car by using child restraints. Other
work at the Institute has shown the importance of an appropriate,
approved child restraint in providing maximum protection to children.
However, with better testing it may be possible to identify and/or
design restraints which further reduce the risk of paralysing injuries,
particularly in children too big for current child restraint designs.
The researchers have also discovered that flexibility along the length
of a young spine varies markedly from flexibility along the adult spine.
The young spine is very flexible in all directions and at all levels-the
neck, and upper and lower back-whereas the adult spine is far less
flexible in the middle of the back, and when twisting to the left or
"Child crash test dummies have been modelled as scaled-down versions of
adult crash test dummies," Liz says, "but these research findings
suggest that there is significant scope for improvement. Current child
crash test dummies can tell us if a restraint will contain a child
during an accident, but they don't adequately model the spine."
"We hope that our results will be used to improve crash test dummy
design and eventually lead to a new generation of dummies. Better child
crash test dummies will give us the tools we need to make travelling in
cars safer for children of all ages."
Elizabeth Clarke is one of 16 early-career scientists chosen for Fresh
Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian
Media contacts: Elizabeth Clarke on 02 93991041, 0413 683 151,
e.clarke at powmri.edu.au; Sarah Brooker on 0413 332 489; and Niall Byrne
on 0417 131 977 or niall at freshscience.org
<mailto:niall at freshscience.org>
Photos and background at www.freshscience.org
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niall at scienceinpublic.com.au <mailto:sniall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
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