Side Air Bag Interaction with Children Seated in the Vehicle Environment (Multiple Year Project)

Principal Investigator: Aditya Belwadi, PhD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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

The prevention of injury in side-impact crashes is of particular importance for pediatric motor vehicle occupants. The incidence of fatality in side-impact crashes is 30 percent, compared to 17 percent in frontal-impact crashes. Significant injury has been found to occur in 41 percent of side-impact crashes versus 15 percent of frontal-impact crashes and 3 percent of rear-impact crashes involving a child occupant. This line of research aimed to assess whether side curtain air bags (roof-side rail-mounted) provide a protective benefit in side-impact crashes for rear-seated children in child restraint systems (CRS).


In Year 2, the team sought to understand the effect of pediatric occupant seating posture using anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), or crash test dummies. The 6-year-old Hybrid III and Q6s ATD were restrained in belt-positioning boosters in side-impact crashes with and without exposure to side curtain air bag deployment. Researchers conducted a series of side-impact sled tests using a novel testing apparatus designed to replicate intrusion profiles and crash speeds seen in full-vehicle crashes. The apparatus included a door fixture mounted on an acceleration sled that could be deformed by four pneumatically actuated cylinders.

The sled tests revealed that side curtain air bags protected the head as indicated by reduced head acceleration and lateral head excursion as compared to tests without them. However, there was a slight increase in peak pelvic acceleration measured in ATDs that interacted with a side curtain air bag. This increase can be attributed to differences in the kinematics between the head/chest and pelvis, due to late engagement of the pelvis with the intruding door trim while the head was being supported by the air bag.

This line of research provides insight into the role of side curtain air bags in mitigating injury to rear-seated children in side-impact crashes, with an emphasis on those in belt-positioning booster seats. These data can be used by vehicle and child seat manufacturers to further enhance occupant safety.


A Hybrid III 6-year-old ATD seated in a high-back booster seat restrained with a lap-and-shoulder belt is subjected to side-impact testing.

Year 1 determined the incidence of injuries in motor vehicle crashes to pediatric occupants seated near-side to a deploying side curtain air bag. Researchers conducted a preliminary analysis of a series of cases identified from the National Automotive Sampling System- Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS) and the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) involving passengers ages 15 or younger who were near-side to a deployed air bag in crashes from 1998 to 2012. These analyses estimated exposure and determined injury contact maps.

Project Team Members

Kristy Arbogast, PhD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Matthew R. Maltese, PhD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


Alicia Abrazinsky, Drexel University; Ryan Garvin, Drexel University; Richard Hanna, MS, Drexel University; Todd Hullfish, Drexel University

IAB Mentors:

Doug Longhitano, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.; Chris Mampe, American Honda Motor Co., Inc.; Keith Nagelski, Britax Child Safety, Inc.; Eric Dahle, Evenflo Company Inc.; Neeharika Anantharaju, FCA US LLC; Guy Nusholtz, FCA US LLC; Julie Kleinert, General Motors Holdings LLC; Mark La Plante, Graco Children’s Products Inc.; Schuyler St. Lawrence, Toyota USA; Uwe Meissner, Technical Advisor