Developing Tools to Assess Vehicle Crash Safety  for Occupants in Wheelchairs

Sponsor: National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)

Dates: September 2022 to August 2025

Researchers: Kathleen D. Klinich, Jingwen Hu, Miriam Manary, Kyle Boyle, Nichole Orton, Daniel Park, Matthew Reed, Brian Eby, Jennifer Bishop

The advent of automated vehicles (AVs) means that vehicle manufacturers have the opportunity to integrate wheelchair seating stations from the beginning of the design process. For ethical and liability reasons, manufacturers want to provide an equitable level of safety for all passengers, including occupants seated in wheelchairs.

Because wheelchair geometries vary more than a single vehicle seat geometry, design of airbags and seatbelts for occupants seated in wheelchairs is challenging. This study will develop a set of physical and digital tools that can represent the diversity of wheelchair 3D geometries, which will help manufacturers design vehicles with better accommodation and safety for wheelchair-seated occupants. Research tasks will include 1) Development of test fixtures representing large and small wheelchairs for use in dynamic physical testing of occupant protection systems. 2) Formation of a virtual wheelchair fleet to facilitate geometric design of wheelchair seating stations. 3) Creation of computational models representing wheelchair test fixtures and a fleet of production wheelchairs to allow virtual design of occupant protection systems, and use such models to evaluate the benefit of additional test fixtures on safety improvement for wheelchair-seated occupants. The figures below outline the process being used to develop the virtual wheelchair fleet and parametric compuational models.

Flow chart showing process to develop statistical wheelchair models The first step is data collection, which provides input for the second step of statistical analysis. The statistical analysis will allow development of a fleet of virtual wheelchair models, as well as an adjustable human model. Both of these will feed into a final model that includes different sizes of wheelchairs and appropriate occupant sizes for each one.
The top of the flow chart shows examples of three current computational models: the wheelchair fixture, a manual wheelchair, and a power wheelchair. Three tasks in the process include model development, model valiation, and model demonstration. At the bottom of the flow chart are three photos illustrating the wheelchair variations identified in Task 2, the crash tests run in Task 1 and in the past, and variations in human diversity and vehicles. Arrows show that the wheelchair variations feed into model development and validation, while the crash tests support validation and the human/vehicle diversity feeds into model validation and demonstration.