A new seat design provides protection against whiplash injuries in minor car crashes

Whiplash injuries tackled with active seat system

A new car seating system designed to minimise the effect of whiplash injuries caused by accidents has been developed by Loughborough University researchers.

Whiplash injuries are among the most common traumas suffered by participants of minor car accidents. Although relatively harmless, they can take a long time to heal and make the lives of the sufferers miserable.

The new system consists of a reactive head restraint and seat that react simultaneously during the impact to provide a more immediate support for the head.

“A combined reactive seat and head restraint system is designed to reduce the whiplash risk, in conjunction with a seat damper absorbing impact energy from the collision,” explained Memis Acar, Professor of Mechanics in the Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, who led the project.

“It does this by reducing the relative motion between the head and the torso and bringing the head restraint closer to the head before whiplash can take effect.”

Whiplash injuries usually happen when a car is hit from the rear by another vehicle typically travelling at modest speeds of around 25km/h. The impact pushes the body of the driver or passenger forwards together with the rest of the vehicle, held in position by seat belts. However, the unsupported head travels backwards putting strain on the neck spine and muscles. The Loughborough system solves the problem by automatically thrusting the head support forwards and reclining the seat backwards in order to mitigate the difference between the motion of the body and the head.

“There is currently no other product in the automotive market that integrates these concepts,” Acar explained. “What we are proposing is an affordable design which lends itself well to mass production for all car ranges.”

According to estimates, whiplash claims cause the UK’s insurance industry £2bn a year. Every year, about 840,000 people are affected by the condition, which suggests an adoption of the new system by the car industry could have a considerable effect on cost savings, as well as on the well-being of those involved in minor car accidents.

The Loughborough team came up with the solution after performing a mechanical linkage analysis using a crash test dummy.

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