Do small drivers suffer more serious injuries?

Investigations carried out by the UDV (German Insurers Accident Research) indicate that small drivers run a greater risk of being seriously injured in a frontal impact. Women are primarily affected because of their smaller average size. The reason for this could be that they are forced by the design of the car to sit too close to the dashboard.

This hypothesis was recently supported by the results of two crash tests, in which the thighs of a small driver dummy in its normal seat position were found to be subject to significantly higher load values than when in the optimum position. To protect small car drivers, UDV chief executive Siegfried Brockmann believes the ergonomics of cars need to be improved. There is also a need to research whether and how knee airbags, adjustable pedals and more adjustable steering wheels, for example, could improve the safety of small drivers.

In the crash tests, two small cars were driven into a rigid step barrier at 50 km/h. In the first test, a driver dummy with a height of 1.50 m was positioned in the car in what the accident researchers considered to be a desirable position. However, because the dummy could not reach the pedals in this position, extended pedals were used for the test. In the second test, the dummy was in the required position for reaching the pedals in practice (i.e. very close to the steering wheel).

 The test findings: When the dummy was positioned further forward, which in reality is the only position possible if a small driver is to reach the pedals, its knees came into violent contact with the dashboard in the crash. The forces to which its thighs were subjected were five times higher than when in the optimum seating position. An analysis of the data in the German insurers' accident database (UDB) also shows that women drivers suffer 50 percent more serious injuries than men in serious frontal impacts.

The crash test films can be seen at www.youtube.com/unfallforschung.