Science News

Belt Up, But Not Too Tightly

Sat, 3rd Jun 2006

Part of the show Oil, Fuel Cells and Alternative Energy

Seat belts should be more sympathetic to the elderly according to a recent study. Ruth Welsh and her colleagues at Loughborough University in the UK and Australia's Monash University, found that people 65 and over, and especially women, were significantly more prone to serious chest injuries compared with younger indivduals. Most of the injuries were caused by seat belts tightening too much, suggesting that car manufacturers should install 'smarter' seat belts which tailor their behaviour to the user. This could well be about to happen because late last year a team at the UK's Cranfield University, working in collaboration with car manufacturers Nissan, produced an ultrasound finger scanner which can estimate bone strength. It can then use the data it collects to reprogramme a car's safety features including the firing of the air bag and how rapidly the seat-belt 'grabs' the wearer. According to Cranfield's Roger Hardy, "The system could be built into dashboard consoles, the driver's door or even, when miniaturised sufficiently, into the gear lever. It would need to be used each time the car's ignition was switched on, before the driver was able to move off."

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