Load cells and car safety: why baby is best facing backwards

Published On: April 19 2018


There’s no doubt that child car seats have saved many babies and young children from serious injury in car crashes. Now a new study aims to resolve a vexing question for all parents: which is better in the event of a rear-end collision, front-facing or rear-facing?


The UK rules on child seat position

First developed in the 1930s to keep kids from jumping about in moving vehicles, the modern child safety seat really came of age during the 1960s when it was integrated with existing car seat belts. Today, all children must use a car seat until they are over the age of 12 or over 135cm tall, whichever comes sooner. Height-based seats must be rear-facing until a child is aged over 15 months, or under 13kgs.


Rear-facing or front-facing seats?

A 2008 study by a team at the University of Virginia showed that in the US,

“Children 0-23 months of age in forward-facing child restraint systems (FFCRS) are 76% more likely to be seriously injured in comparison to children in rear-facing child restraint systems (RFCRS).”


The current UK regulations allow parents to choose a front-facing option after the age of 15 months, as above.


Load cells in rear impact crash testing

In a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, the team conducted 12 rear impact tests with dummies strapped into four different models of rear-facing car seats. The testing involved using:

“The CRABI 12-month-old and Hybrid III 3-year-old ATDs instrumented with head and chest accelerometers, head angular rate sensors, six-axis upper neck load cells, and a chest linear potentiometer (3-year-old only).”


The load cell positioning was particularly important, as team leader research engineer Julie Mansfield explained to online magazine Romper:

“Rear-facing car seats support the head, neck, and spine of the child. They help to keep these vulnerable body regions supported and aligned during a crash. This is especially important for children under age 2, whose spines are not fully developed yet.”


Sit back and relax

The team’s findings are very reassuring for parents:

“We found that the rear-facing car seats protected the crash test dummy well when exposed to a typical rear impact. …. A lot of the crash energy was absorbed through the car seat interacting with the vehicle seat, so that reduced the amount of energy transferred into the occupant.”



You can see the test rig set-up (albeit briefly) in this YouTube news report:


Load cells for crash test dummies

Today’s crash test dummies can be fitted with a range of 4 and 6 axis load cells that are specifically designed to measure the forces on particular body parts and joints, such as the lower neck, femur, knee, shoulder, and spine. There is event a 12-axial load cell available for measuring forces in the sacroiliac joint in the pelvis.


Need specialised load cells?

Contact us with your requirements, your specifications – and your challenges! Our experienced team can help devise, design and manufacture load cell systems for almost any testing or monitoring requirements, on land, sea and in the air!