Safety of children in cars: A review of biomechanical aspects and human body models
Review article, 2015

The protection of children in motor vehicle crashes has improved since the introduction of child restraint systems. However, motor vehicle crashes remain one of the top leading causes of death for children. Today, computer-aided engineering is an essential part of vehicle development and it is anticipated that safety assessments will increasingly rely on simulations. Therefore, this study presents a review of important biomechanical aspects for the safety of children in cars, including child human body models, for scenarios ranging from on-road driving, emergency maneuvers, and pre-crash events to crash loading. The review is divided into four parts: Crash safety, On-road driving for forward facing children, Numerical whole body models, and Discussion and future outlook.The first two parts provide ample references and a state-of-the-art description of important biomechanical aspects for the safety of children in cars. That children are not small adults has been known for decades and has been considered during the development of current restraints that protect the child in the crash phase. The head, neck, thorax, and pelvis are body areas where development with age changes the biomechanics and the interaction with restraint systems. The rear facing child seat distributes the crash load over a large area of the body and has proved to be a very efficient means of reducing child injuries and fatalities. Children up to age 4. years need to be seated rearward facing for optimal protection, mainly because of the proportionally large head, neck anthropometry and cartilaginous pelvis. Children aged 4 up to 12. years should use a belt positioning booster together with the vehicle seat belt to ensure good protection, as the pelvis is not fully developed and because of the smaller size of these children compared to adults. On-road driving studies have illustrated that children frequently change seated posture and may choose slouched positions that are poor for lap belt interaction if seated directly on the rear seat. Emergency maneuvers with volunteers illustrate that pre-crash loading forces forward-facing children into involuntary postures with large head displacements, having potential influence on the risk of head impact. Children, similar to adults, benefit from the safety systems offered in the vehicle. By providing child adaptability of the vehicle, such as integrated booster cushions, the child-restraint interaction can be further optimized. An example of this is the significant reduction of lap belt misuse when using integrated boosters, due to the simplified and natural positioning of the lap belt in close contact with the pelvis. The research presented in this review illustrates that there is a need for enhanced tools, such as child human body models, to take into account the requirements of children of different ages and sizes in the development of countermeasures.To study how children interact with restraints during on-road driving and during pre- and in-crash events, numerical child models implementing age-specific anthropometric features will be essential. The review of human whole body models covers multi body models (age 1.5 to 15. years) and finite element models (ages 3, 6, and 10. years). All reviewed child models are developed for crash scenarios. The only finite element models to implement age dependent anthropometry details for the spine and pelvis were a 3. year-old model and an upcoming 10. year-old model. One ongoing project is implementing active muscles response in a 6. year-old multi body model to study pre-crash scenarios. These active models are suitable for the next important step in providing the automotive industry with adequate tools for development and assessment of future restraint systems in the full sequence of events from pre- to in-crash.

Child safety


Human body models


On-road driving



Karin Brolin

Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers

Chalmers, Applied Mechanics, Vehicle Safety

Isabelle Stockman

Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers

Chalmers, Applied Mechanics, Vehicle Safety

Marianne Andersson

Chalmers, Applied Mechanics, Vehicle Safety

Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers

Katarina Bohman

Autoliv AB

Karolinska Institutet

Laure-Lise Gras

Chalmers, Applied Mechanics, Vehicle Safety

Lotta Jakobsson

Chalmers, Applied Mechanics, Vehicle Safety

Volvo Cars

IATSS Research

0386-1112 (ISSN)

Vol. 38 2 92-102

Subject Categories

Mechanical Engineering

Other Engineering and Technologies

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance


Life Science Engineering (2010-2018)



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