Auto Electronics

An Active Approach to Driver Protection

Have you ever thought about how long it takes to blink your eyes? It's close to 90 milliseconds, which is the same amount of time it takes for safety devices to react to driver rebound in a frontal motor vehicle crash. In the blink of an eye, lives can be changed forever.

Many people fail to realize that a vehicle crash involves more than just a vehicle and an obstacle. There are additional crashes, such as those between the occupant and the vehicle interior and the occupant's internal organs and his or her frame. As a result, survivors may suffer severe, long-term disabling injuries. For lower-extremity injuries alone, Maryland's Crash Injury Research & Engineering Network (CIREN) reports that most crash survivors have not returned to their pre-crash health at six months or even one year post accident.

The Federal Government and consumers understand the increasingly important need for occupant safety technology to help save lives and protect driver quality of life post crash.

A recent National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) report showed that energy-absorbing steering columns have helped save more than 53,000 lives, second only to seatbelts. In fact, due to the critical nature of this life-saving device, governmental standards for energy absorption have been in place since the 1960s. The original Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 203 simply required that vehicles be fitted with energy-absorbing steering columns. Recent enhancements to that regulation (FMVSS 208) are raising the bar by requiring protection for smaller 5th percentile drivers and average-size 50th percentile drivers, in conditions with and without seatbelts.

Consumers also seem to realize the value. According to a recent national study, conducted by a third party on behalf of Delphi, 70% of consumers acknowledge that an energy-absorbing steering column plays an important role in driver safety.

Focused on saving lives, our engineers developed the first energy-absorbing steering column and took it to production in 1968. Recently, we introduced an active energy-absorbing column to address the latest FMVSS 208 requirements. Now, our latest innovation, the Delphi Driver Protection Module (DDPM), looks ahead to potential future legislation by helping provide drivers with head-to-toe protection for the first time. The module integrates three occupant safety technologies: the energy-absorbing steering column, the knee bolster and the pedals. When combined with our Active Energy Absorption (Active EA) technology in crash test simulations, the risk of serious energy is reduced by up to 27% and coverage is expanded to help protect the lower extremities.

When integrated as a complete module, the steering column strokes horizontally to help reduce head and chest load, provide better match airbag position with occupant trajectory, increase capacity for energy absorption and allow for less aggressive driver airbag inflation. The knee bolster helps reduce knee, femur, hip and lower extremity loads, absorbs energy through translation rather than deformation and reduces sensitivity to location of knee contact. The pedals swing away from the feet in a frontal crash, reducing lower extremity loads and absorbing energy by displacing it away from the driver. DDPM with active EA uses pyrotechnic actuators to automatically adjust to driver size, restraint usage and crash severity to protect smaller 5th, average 50th and large 95th percentile drivers by delivering low, medium and maximum absorption.

The government continues to propose additional safety regulations. Already, impact velocity for belted tests has been increased to 30 mph. In addition, new requirements for 5th percentile drivers are in effect and increased requirements for larger 50th and 95th percentile drivers are possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Crishon is business line executive for the columns business line at Delphi Corp. He has more than 34 years of experience in the automotive industry and is responsible for the steering columns business and product strategy, the enterprise-wide value stream, program management and profit and loss for the business line.

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