An International Collaboration For Child Passenger Safety October 9, 2014
December 2, 2014
Today, we are pleased to share a moderated discussion between Kristy Arbogast, PhD, CIRP@CHOP co-scientific director, and Isabelle Stockman, a researcher and PhD candidate from SAFER, the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Center at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. Dr. Arbogast and Ms. Stockman have collaborated on several projects in an ongoing relationship between CHOP and Chalmers.
Lindsey Mitros (LM): How did this research collaboration begin?
Kristy Arbogast (KA): Sweden has long been a leader in child safety, so in 2008, I was pleased to accept the invitation of a colleague to travel to Sweden for six weeks to kick-off what became a long-standing collaborative project looking at the safety of the rear seat for child occupants. Since then, I have traveled to Sweden at least once a year to continue this partnership, including helping to organize three international strategy sessions on child passenger safety in 2009, 2011, and 2013 with my colleagues from Chalmers, Volvo Cars, Autoliv, and Saab.
LM: Can you share some background on traffic safety regulations and statistics in Sweden?
Isabelle Stockman (IS): I think our success in decreasing national motor vehicle crash (MVC)-related fatalities and injuries can be attributed to a combination of legislation and awareness campaigns. Following the first seat belt law in 1975, which applied to front seated occupants, seat belt laws for rear seated occupants were passed in 1986 (for adults older than 15 years) and 1988 (for children). We also have a long tradition of using child restraints. In fact, the first rear-facing child seat was made available in Sweden in 1967, followed by the first booster cushion in 1978. Although the first law requiring child restraints only applied to children 6 years and younger, in 2006 this was amended to include all children under 135cm tall, which is approximately 4 feet, 5 inches. Simultaneously, beginning in the 1970’s, high-profile national awareness campaigns educated parents and caregivers on the importance of child passenger safety. All of this has resulted in a nearly 100% compliance rate for restraining children in motor vehicles according to Swedish best practice recommendations: restrained in rear-facing child restraint systems (CRS) until at least age 4, and then transitioned directly into belt-positioning booster seats up to 10-12 years of age.
Another contributing factor came in 1997 when Swedish Parliament passed a traffic safety bill that would become the Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to not only reduce fatalities, but also severe injuries and long-term disability from MVCs. Following the introduction of Vision Zero, the number of occupant fatalities has decreased by more than 50%, from approximately 400 in 2000 to 167 in 2010. In 2011, only 4 children less than 14 years of age died as car occupants in MVC in Sweden!
KA: Vision Zero is an important and unique component of Sweden’s success in traffic safety. Since its inception, the Swedes have rallied behind the concept to make it a cultural norm, and that is reflected in the statistics. Importantly, the program goes beyond human driving behavior to also consider a variety of modes of transportation and roadway design. It is notable that Vision Zero is extending into the United States as well, with Minnesota, Utah, Washington State and, most recently, New York City launching programs modeled after Sweden’s success.
LM: Can you describe the current research projects you’re collaborating on?
IS: My research focuses on how pre-crash maneuvers impact the positioning (and protection) of restrained children in the rear seat. We have three main collaborating activities currently underway in this area:
Maneuver studies on a test track, in which children ages 4-10 were restrained in booster seats and seat belts and were subjected to braking and steering events.
On-road driving assessments in an instrumented vehicle, in which children and their parents drove for 2 hours on urban and rural roads and through discrete video cameras, the posture and positioning of the children were observed.
Analysis within a naturalistic driving study, led by the Monash University Accident Research Centre. For this project, families in Melbourne, Australia drive a vehicle for a two week period fitted with a set of discrete video cameras, recording system, and a vehicle data acquisition unit. The goal of this project is to record and analyze the posture and movement of child occupants in real-world driving scenarios.
KA: There are trade-offs for each methodology that we’re employing. For example, in the maneuver study, we are able to put markers on the children to more accurately assess how they move during braking and steering events. However, this makes them more aware that they are part of a research study. In the naturalistic driving study, child occupants are driving with their parents and, although the vehicle is instrumented, this scenario is more representative of reality. This collective body of research will help us gain important insight that can help to improve the design of Anthropomorphic Test Devices (ATDs), or crash test dummies, and vehicle safety systems.
LM: What have you gained from this collaboration?
IS: As a student, I have found that taking part in these multidisciplinary projects has been both valuable and rewarding. I have learned so much from the experience of Kristy and our fellow collaborators. Ideally, the research we’re conducting can be used to improve the safety and long-term health outcomes of children not only in the US and Sweden but around the world-- for example, in China, where it is common for children to travel embraced by an adult.
KA: Improving traffic safety and child occupant protection around the world is all about communication. Everyone has important knowledge to share as we work toward a common goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating child injuries and fatalities due to MVCs. With limited resources, these types of collaborations are not only valuable, but essential.