Adapting load limiter deployment for frontal crash diversity
Objective: Current European restraint systems may not realize their full protection potential in real-world frontal crashes because they are highly optimized for specific conditions. This research sought to quantify the potential benefit of adapting seat belt load limit thresholds to a wider range of occupant and crash characteristics.
Methods: Numerical simulations using Hybrid III dummies were conducted to determine how varying load limiter thresholds could affect occupant kinematics and injury outcome in frontal impacts. Occupant–compartment models were developed with a restraint system consisting of a frontal airbag and a 3-point belt with retractor, buckle pretensioner, and load limiting at the shoulder. Load limiting threshold was varied in 5 frontal impact scenarios, covering as wide a range of real frontal crash conditions as possible. The simulated thoracic injury risks were converted into injury probability values using Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) 2+ age-dependent thoracic risk curves. These values were then applied to a British real-world frontal impact sample to determine the injury reduction potential of optimized load limiting, taking into account occupant seating position, impact scenario, occupant size, and occupant age and assuming that an appropriate adaptive system was fitted to all cars.
Results: In low-severity impacts, a low load limit provided the best chest protection, without increasing risk to other body regions, for both the 50th and 95th percentile dummies in both front seating positions. In high-severity impacts, the low limit was not recommended because it allowed the driver dummy to move into close proximity with the vehicle interior, although there appeared to be some benefit of lower load limiting for the 50th percentile front passenger dummy, due to the increased ride down space in that seating position. Adapting the load limit showed no injury reduction potential for 5th percentile drivers. Utilizing the best load limit threshold in real-world crashes could reduce the number of occupants with AIS 2+ chest injuries from belt loading from 377 to 251 (a 33% reduction), correspondingly reducing the number of occupants with AIS 2+ chest injuries (from all sources) in the whole frontal impact population from 496 to 370. This is a reduction in injury rate from 6.4% to 4.8%.
Conclusions: The concept of an adaptive load limiter shows most promise in low-speed frontal crashes where it could lower the AIS 2+ chest injury risk for most front seat occupants, except the smallest of drivers. Generally, adaptive limiters show less potential effectiveness with increased crash severities. Overall, an intelligent adjustment of load limiting threshold could result in a reduction of at least a third of front seat occupants with AIS 2+ chest injuries associated with restraining loads and an overall reduction in AIS 2+ chest injury rate in frontal crashes from 6.4% to 4.8%