Head Injury Contact Points for Children Seated on the Rear Rows in Frontal Crashes

Principal Investigator: Kristy Arbogast, PhD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Below is an executive summary of this project. Please note that this summary describes results and interpretation that may not be final. Final interpretation of results will be in the peer-reviewed literature.

On the left, you see a line drawing of the interior seat back of a motor vehicle.
On the right is a photograph of a vehicle that was involved in a crash, with one or more numbers in the picture.
The numbers signify the location inside the vehicle where an occupant contacted the vehicle interior.

Traumatic brain and skull injuries are the most common serious injuries sustained by children in motor vehicle crashes, regardless of age or crash direction. The objective of this study was to delineate the cause and effect of head injury scenarios for rear-seated, restrained children in frontal crashes and to create a contact map of the vehicle interior.

Previous research has investigated the cause of injury for children restrained in child safety systems, booster seats, and seat belts in side impact motor vehicle crashes. This was accomplished by highlighting common injury scenarios among near- and far-sided crash occupants and then providing a detailed contact point map to summarize areas of the vehicle interior contacted by specific body regions. This project utilized this methodology and examined the experience of restrained children in frontal crashes who sustained injuries to the head/face.

Three major injury causation scenarios were identified, including head contact with the back of the seat and head contact with the side interior. For some scenarios, head/face injury occurred with no evidence of head contact. In a majority of the cases, injury to the head/face was the most severe type of injury sustained by the child, with serious injuries to other body regions uncommon. This finding suggests that efforts to mitigate head injuries for child occupants would greatly improve their overall safety. The majority of the head/face contact points were to the first row seat back and B-pillar (second pillar of the passenger compartment used to house the hinges for any rear doors). In these frontal crashes, the importance of head/ face contact with the vehicle side structure suggests that deploying a curtain air bag in frontal impacts may help manage the energy of impact. These data advance the current understanding of injury patterns and causation in frontal crashes involving restrained, rear row occupants and can be used to develop solutions to eventually lessen the incidence and severity of injuries sustained.

IAB Mentors

Uwe Meissner, Technical Advisor; Rodney Rudd, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Julie Kleinert, General Motors Holdings LLC