Designing for Diversity? Challenges in Auto Safety

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The modern automobile is one of the most complex examples of human-machine interaction in existence.

In addition to the constant ballet of control and feedback, nearly every component of the vehicle structure and interior are designed with consideration for the potential impact on occupant protection. However, for a variety of practical and historical reasons, the delicate design of these systems tends to be driven by evaluation tools and procedures targeting mid-sized, middle aged, adult males.

Dr. Jason Forman, Principal Scientist at the University of Virginia Center for Applied Biomechanics, joined Grounds on the Go in November to explore some of the contemporary challenges for designing automobile safety systems for the entirety of the population, including some of the potential adverse consequences arising from a traditional narrow-cast approach.

“We have very, very well designed vehicles and hyper-optimized restraint systems that are very good at protecting two particular dummies. If every one of us looked like a [1973] Hybrid III dummy, cars would be incredibly safe,” Dr. Forman explains. “But the question is, what’s missing?”

Throughout the evolution of crash tests one thing has remained the same: the dummy

Dr. Forman is the eleventh presenter to speak at a Grounds on the Go lecture. Formed in partnership with the UVA Applied Research Institute, the series aims to bring the University of Virginia’s most prominent scholars to the Charlottesville community for lively presentations on timely topics. Previous talks have covered topics ranging from fake news, to mindfulness, and net neutrality.

In his presentation, Dr. Forman, joined by PhD candidate, Carolyn Roberts,  explores how increasing fragility and frailty changes injury protection priorities in older occupants, how obesity can affect interactions with restraint systems, how the field has approached injury prevention for female automobile occupants in the face of male-dominated data and tools, and how all of these challenges may be affected by the increasing trend towards autonomous vehicles.

The next Grounds on the Go lecture is scheduled for February 7 with Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Modern Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Learn more and RSVP at

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