Groundbreaking Canadian research
into side-impact crashes is revealing human, environmental, and
engineering factors that can help drivers avoid vehicle collisions.
What's the best way to avoid injury in a car accident? Don't crash.
A diverse group of AUTO21 researchers is transforming this commonsense
advice into practical information that will help vehicle designers,
city planners, and drivers reduce the risk of vehicle collisions,
particularly side-impact crashes.
Prof. Mary Chipman (Principal Investigator, University
Dr. Michel Gou (École Polytechnique)
Dr. Claire Laberge-Nadeau (Université de Montréal)
Dr. Bhagwant Persaud (Ryerson University)
Dr. Parminder Raina (UBC)
Dr. Douglas Romilly (UBC)
Dr. Khaled Sennah (Ryerson University)
Dr. Reza Vaziri (UBC)
Société d'assurance automobile de Québec
Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC)
Centre for Research in Transportation (CRT)
Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC)
"The simplest and best way to avoid injury in crashes is to
avoid the crash in the first place," says Prof. Mary Chipman,
the principal investigator on the four-year project, which wraps
up in March 2005. "Sometimes you have to remind people of that
very obvious fact, because they get caught up in research that looks
at what happens when a crash occurs. Lab tests are very good for
determining how doors should be designed to withstand certain impacts,
but they can't tell you very much about what you need to do and
what the vehicle needs to have to avoid crashes."
Prof. Chipman is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics
at the University of Toronto's Department of Public Health Sciences
and an expert in applying statistics to the medical sciences. She
is currently working with a cross-Canada team of engineers and epidemiologists
to examine all aspects of side-impact crashes, including the design
of vehicle doors, seats, and street fixtures.
For her part, Prof. Chipman is analyzing detailed Transport Canada
data from crash investigations to determine what safety features
reduce the likelihood of a side-impact crash.
Side-impact crashes account for 25% to 40% of all collisions, resulting
in significant injury and even death. Yet, compared with frontal
crashes, little is known about their epidemiology or biomechanics.
The project team analyzed data from crash investigations conducted
in Toronto and Montreal on side-impact crashes involving a "bullet"
(striking vehicle) and a "target" (struck vehicle). Data
included the make, model, year, curb weight, dimensions, and safety
equipment such as airbags, anti-lock brake systems (ABS), and traction
control on vehicles involved in the accident.
Researchers reviewed 26 side-impact crashes in Toronto, involving
both the target and the bullet. They also compiled information on
nearly 200 control vehicles – vehicles that passed by the
crash site close to the crash date, on the same day of the week
and time of day. In Montreal, the team reviewed 35 side-impact crashes,
collecting data on about 300 control vehicles.
The AUTO21 project is the first definitive study to examine if
anti-lock brake systems can help drivers avoid a side-impact collision.
Some previous studies concluded that ABS were effective, but in
limited circumstances. Other studies found that crashes were more
common in vehicles with ABS, suggesting that drivers with ABS drove
The most striking revelation from Prof. Chipman's research so far
is that ABS can help the striking vehicle avoid a side-impact crash.
"ABS doesn't decrease the stopping distance, but it does reduce
the risk of skidding," she explains. "If the brakes lock
and there's something in front of you, you lose control and may
not be able to steer to avoid the crash."
"The solution of any traffic crash
is an interaction between the driver and the vehicle and the
surrounding environment. No one scientific discipline can
come up with a solution. That's the real strength of AUTO21.
They are aggressively multidisciplinary when it comes to finding
and implementing solutions. It was during one of the first
meetings to discuss the NCE program that I became aware of
the various scientific disciplines involved in auto-related
research. I thought I was pretty well connected across Canada,
but these were people I had never met before. It was very
sobering to learn how isolated we had all been. We didn't
even realize it."
Prof. Mary Chipman
Department of Public Health Sciences
University of Toronto
The findings could persuade regulators to make ABS a standard feature
in vehicles, rather than an optional extra. Prof. Chipman says it
could also influence the future design of automobiles, and help
insurance companies identify lower-risk clients.
Preliminary results from the research were presented last year
at the U.S.-based Society for Automotive Engineers International,
which is considering an additional five papers on related subjects
from this study for its 2005 conference.