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Loose luggage is lethal…
Volvo passenger safety research looks inside cars for trouble
Your suitcase may be heavy and hard to handle, but have you ever considered it a threat to your life?
While Volvo Car Corporation research suggests that only 1.1 of every 1,000 accident victims reports that they have been injured by something already inside their car, that hasn’t stopped the Swedish company from exploring ways of making the inside of Volvo cars even safer for occupants.
Unsecured cargo – luggage, sports gear, tools, groceries, or even pets – can be lethal under the sudden deceleration of a collision. Something that normally weighs 13.6 kg (30 lbs.) becomes a dangerous weapon weighing 590 kg (1,300 lbs.) in an abrupt stop from 96 km/h (60 mph). That means cars not only have to be engineered to protect passengers in external impacts, they should help protect them from impacts inside the car.
The European standard known as ECE R17-07 provides the minimum performance criteria for things like seats, seat anchors, head restraints and luggage nets. Volvo Cars engineers go further, engineering an extra margin of safety into interior components and then testing their developments in the sophisticated Volvo Cars Safety Centre to help ensure that components not only meet the letter of the law but also take into consideration the conditions and circumstances that occur in “real world” collisions. Tests examine front and rear seats (fully upright, folded and partly folded), with and without passengers and, of course, their luggage.
Although the rear seats of wagons seem the most likely areas of impact, the front passenger seats and the rear seats in sedans are also subject to impacts in a crash. Marianne Särnå of the Safety Centre urges drivers to secure heavy items with cargo nets or other approved restraints. “The forces at play here are very serious,” she says. “It’s important to keep loose things from becoming missiles in the car.”
Särnå worries that people who store hard items on the hat shelf under the rear windows of their cars are inviting an unpleasant meeting with their possessions. “A tissue box may look innocent but imagine how it feels when it hits you going 50 km/h?” she says.
The Volvo safety engineers are also working hard to protect passengers from another interior impact – the impact of a passenger against the inside of the car.
Even though occupant restraints like three-point seat belts with pre-tensioners and supplemental restraint systems like ‘smart’ driver and passenger front air bags, Volvo-pioneered Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) side air bags and Inflatable Curtain offer significant protection in a collision, there is still the need to consider what happens when hands, elbows, legs and other vulnerable human parts strike the inside of the car.
Again, standards guide automakers on the minimum protection cars must provide their occupants, and again Volvo Cars engineers go farther.
Instrument panel, front seat backs, head restraints, sun visors, arm rests, roof pillars and many other components are engineered to exceed the basic standards and offer protection in real world circumstances. Indeed, a section of the Safety Centre is devoted to the testing of interior components before they make it to the overall vehicle crash tests. Using a dramatic testing facility called a Free Motion Head (a sophisticated crash test dummy head on a tether), the facility propels the head at components at speeds from 5.4 to 6.7 metres per second to test the energy absorption and compliance of the component. Scientifically determined head acceleration criteria (HICd) help project the risk of head injury.
Research in this area has taken on new importance, says Volvo bio-mechanical engineer Lotta Jakobsson. Modern safety technology like air bags have saved the lives of crash victims but some still suffer injury in the leg area, the result of ‘internal’ collisions. “It is an important challenge, really,” says Jakobsson. “Technology like air bags save lives every day. Now the crash victims with injuries to the lower extremities are more visible – injuries that were not as frequent before because the victim wouldn’t have survived the initial impact just a few years ago.”
Note: Two photos to illustrate this story will be available as www.volvocars-pr.ca
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