NSF grant to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia bridges academic research, child safety innovation


Auto safety researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) are working to make automobiles safer for children and young drivers by quickly turning new discoveries into new and safer products.

With a 5-year grant and facilitation from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Children's Hospital has established a unique NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, The Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS). CChIPS is the only NSF center devoted to injury prevention.

The center unites Children's Hospital and Penn researchers with automotive and insurance industry members to translate research findings into tangible innovations in safety technology and public education programs. Annually, an NSF grant of $70,000 is supplemented by contributions of $50,000 from each industry member to support the shared CChIPS research agenda. Currently, there are six founding industry members: Britax Child Safety, Inc., Nissan North America, Inc., State Farm Insurance Companies, Takata Corporation, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., and Volkswagen of America, Inc., with additional industry memberships welcome. With Children's Hospital contributing administrative costs, the entire annual CChIPS budget goes toward research that promises to lead to safety innovation for children.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for people aged 4 to 33 years, exceeding most other causes combined. Each year in the United States, more than 1.5 million children under age 16 are occupants in motor vehicle crashes, resulting in more than 1,700 fatalities and 240,000 non-fatal injuries. Furthermore, crashes occur disproportionately among new young adult drivers, with one in four crash fatalities in the United States involving 16- to 24-year-olds. Drivers aged 16 and 17 years, who have been licensed for six months or less, are nearly twice as likely to die in a crash as are other age groups.

"Before the creation of CChIPS, there was no national platform for cooperative industry-university research on child injury prevention science and engineering," said Flaura Koplin-Winston, M.D., Ph.D., the director of CChIPS. "The center is poised to serve as this facilitator, to conduct university-led, industry-relevant, research."

Children's Hospital is currently home to the world's largest ongoing surveillance system of children in crashes, Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), a partnership with State Farm Insurance Companies®. CChIPS builds on this decade-long multidisciplinary endeavor that combines the expertise of engineers, pediatricians, biostatisticians, and psychologists by putting in place the mechanisms for translating findings, such as those from PCPS, for those who can effect change through safety improvements. Products of the center will range from research reports to patentable new safety technology and tested educational programs for children, youth, and young adults.

"It's exciting to see this collaborative spirit not only between industry and academia, but also among our founding industrial members, who are putting children's safety ahead of competitive interests by supporting CChIPS," said Steven M. Altschuler, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children's Hospital. "With the high cost of traffic injuries to families, to insurance companies, and to industry, supporting the development of prevention technologies is in our nation's best economic interest."

Comprehensive Study of Child Crash Injury

Research projects accepted for CChIPS funding examine all phases of a crash - before, during, and after – to identify where improvements can be made. The researchers work synergistically across disciplines to better understand the mechanical, behavioral, and societal mechanisms of injury, and to identify key targets for intervention. This research is then delivered into the hands of the industry members, who can best foster the necessary changes that will prevent these injuries.

CChIPS research initiatives are already under way:

Young Drivers: Traffic crashes occur disproportionately among new young adult drivers, who also are more likely than those in other age groups to die in crashes. CChIPS researchers, working in cooperation with the University of Iowa, are studying young driver performance to identify effective education and vehicle safety enhancements to reduce the number of young drivers involved in crashes.

Booster Seats: Belt-positioning booster seats are needed by children who have outgrown child restraints to ensure that the seat belt fits properly. This study will identify design improvements that can be made to high-back booster seats that further enhance the safety benefits to children riding in boosters.

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH): LATCH systems anchor child safety seats in vehicles without the need for seat belts. A recent safety technology, LATCH is only required in all passenger cars and child safety seats manufactured after September 1, 2002, so limited data exist on its performance. This study examines how misused LATCH systems affect child injury risk, and will provide design recommendations to LATCH manufacturers.

Forward-facing Child Seats: Previous research has shown that using forward-facing child seats reduces injuries by 71 percent, as compared with children using seat belts alone. However, for crashes resulting in injuries despite correct restraint, lower extremity injuries occur in 28 percent of children and can affect long-term growth and development. This study will examine actual crashes involving children who have suffered this type of injury and will inform the necessary design improvements that can prevent them.

Preventing Fatal Crashes: Until now, fatal crash information and details regarding the injuries resulting in the fatalities were housed within two different federal agencies. This study brings together the NHTSA Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) with the Centers for Disease Control's Multiple Cause of Death files in order to better understand why children die in crashes and how vehicles and restraints can be improved to prevent these deaths.

Cervical Spine Injuries: Children are particularly vulnerable to neck injuries in motor vehicles due to the mechanics of acceleration-induced injury. This study will examine children's natural range of motion for the neck and spine and will use these findings to inform the design of child dummies used in testing for risk of spinal cord injury.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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