DETROIT - A car seat that uses a simple sliding mechanism could soon begin saving drivers from neck injuries in low-speed rear-end collisions.
By using the rearward force of the driver's body, the seat brings its headrest up and forward to gently 'catch' the driver's head, preventing whiplash.
'We want to safeguard spinal continuity between the head and torso,' said Fabrice Charras, research engineer for the French supplier Faurecia Automotive Seating. Charras was speaking at a technical session of the Automotive & Transportation Interiors Expo here.
Faurecia's trade-named Spinal CARE (Continuous Advanced Restraint Equipment) system was developed following a 1996 study of how bodies react during rear-end collisions.
The company found that most drivers do not adjust headrests correctly and also sit with their heads too far from the headrest. Separately, a US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that most adjustable headrests are typically left in the 'down' position.
How injuries occur
In a rear-end collision, the driver's neck is jerked first into an S-shaped bend that can damage spinal discs. When the head finally contacts the headrest, it tends to slide up and roll back over the structure, lifting the chin, hyperextending the neck and causing more damage.
Charras said drivers who recline their seats are even more prone to injuries in such accidents, because the increased seat angle moves the headrest further from the head and cannot prevent hyperextension.
Faurecia is not the first company to try to improve neck safety. Delphi Automotive Systems, in the mid-1990s, introduced its 'catcher's mitt' seat, and Volvo Car Corp. has used an actively positioned headrest on some models. But Faurecia's all-mechanical concept is among the first actively to bring the entire seat into line with the occupant's natural spinal position.
Faurecia's new seat uses the anchor of the pelvis, the body's strongest bone structure, to position the driver correctly in the seat. If an accident forces the pelvis back, its force engages the seat bottom with a pair of slides in the seat back. The slides bring the headrest and seat back up to meet the driver's upper back and neck and allow the whole seat to take up the impact.
The Spinal CARE seat does not require any special driver adjustment.
The headrest can be pivoted separately for driver comfort without compromising the seat's safety.
Charras said the seat has not been put into production yet, but is being considered by several European automakers and is being introduced to North American companies later this summer.
The Faurecia concept won first place for safety systems in the Automotive & Transportation Interiors Design & Technology Awards competition. Winners were announced 8 June.