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Logo for the Journal of Rehab R&D
Vol. 40 No. 2, March/April 2003
Pages 125–130

The effects of wheelchair-seating stiffness and energy absorption on occupant frontal impact kinematics and submarining risk using computer simulation
Gina Bertocci, PhD, PE; Aaron L. Souza, MS; Stephanie Szobota, BS
University of Pittsburgh, Injury Risk Assessment and Prevention (iRAP) Laboratory and Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, Pittsburgh, PA

Abstract — Many wheelchair users must travel in motor vehicles while seated in their wheelchairs. The safety features of seat assemblies are key to motor vehicle occupant crash protection. Seating system properties such as strength, stiffness, and energy absorbance have been shown to have significant influence on risk of submarining. This study investigated the effects of wheelchair seat stiffness and energy absorption properties on occupant risk of submarining during a frontal motor vehicle 20 g/30 mph impact using a validated computer crash simulation model. The results indicate that wheelchair-seating stiffness and energy absorption characteristics influence occupant kinematics associated with the risk of submarining. Softer seat surfaces and relatively high energy absorption/permanent deformation were found to produce pelvis excursion trajectories associated with increased submarining risk. Findings also suggest that the current American National Standards Institute/Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (ANSI/RESNA) WC-19 seating integrity may not adequately assess submarining risk.

Key words: crash simulation, submarining, wheelchair biomechanics, wheelchair injury, wheelchair safety, wheelchair transportation.

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