Study: Should Newer Cars Be Modified To Protect Older Drivers?

Boom in older drivers has experts rethinking one-size-fits-all seat belts, airbags

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Helen Kessler, 76, of Columbus, Ohio fastens her seatbelt before driving. Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are teaming up with industry partners to study outdated seatbelt designs in an effort to better protect the 36 million American drivers over age 65.

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Since they were first required by law nearly 40 years ago, seat belts have undoubtedly helped save countless lives. But today, with more than 36 million American drivers on the road over the age of 65, researchers are revisiting seat belt designs in an effort to better protect older drivers.

“When seat belts were first designed, they used safety dummies that represented the ‘average’ driver, which back then was a normal sized 40-year-old man,” said John Bolte, PhD, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “The size and demographics of American drivers has certainly changed, but the basic seat belt designs haven’t, and we need to address that.”

Bolte and industry partners are teaming up to help develop the next generation of seat belts, primarily because the very systems that are supposed to protect drivers are actually contributing to their injuries. Even in minor accidents, ill-fitting belts can cause everything from fractured ribs to a flailed chest to a broken pelvis.

“For a younger driver, these types of injuries are rarely life-threatening,” said Bolte, “But for someone who’s older, a couple of fractured ribs or flailed chest can lead to problems with breathing and even the chance for pneumonia. It can very quickly cause some serious issues.”

In fact, studies show in serious crashes drivers over the age of 65 wear seat belts more than any other age group. However, because they are more fragile, their chances of survival are lower.

To address those issues, newly-designed crash tests are being conducted using smaller crash test dummiesthat resemble more fragile occupants. “Once we understand the position of the driver or passenger in the crash, we will be able to better understand where injuries are most likely occur,” said Bolte. “That information can be used to improve seat belts, airbags, even the entire safety system, especially for older, more vulnerable drivers.”

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Helen Kessler, 76, of Columbus, Ohio fastens her seatbelt before driving. Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are teaming up with industry partners to study outdated seatbelt designs in an effort to better protect the 36 million American drivers over age 65.

Helen Kessler, 76, says the seatbelt in her car is ill-fitting and often uncomfortable. Seat belts were designed decades ago to protect the `average` driver who, at the time, was a normal-sized, 40-year-old man. Today, drivers are much more diverse and older, and more fragile drivers are often injured because of outdated designs.

Researchers prepare to perform crash tests on a smaller, more fragile dummy resembling a more fragile occupant at a test site. Experts from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are teaming up with industry partners to test new seat belt systems that might better protect the 36 million elderly drivers in the U.S. from injury.

Researchers analyze crash test data at a test site. Experts from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are teaming up with industry experts to develop new seat belt systems to better protect drivers over the age of 65, who are expected to number more than 60 million by 2030.

Cameras capture the moment of impact for a smaller class of crash test dummies resembling more fragile occupants at a testing site. Experts from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are partnering with industry experts to develop updated seat belt systems to better protect the older, more fragile drivers that make up the fastest growing group of drivers on the road.