Driving Safety for Two: Toyota’s Innovative Quest to Secure Pregnant Passengers


In late 2022, a team of four women and one man at Toyota posed a seemingly straightforward yet crucial question: How can we ensure seat belt safety for pregnant women? The realization that expectant mothers often feel insecure with the current seat belt designs sparked a simple yet powerful idea.

Juliana Said, a body design engineer at Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) R&D, expressed surprise at the widespread misconception that seat belts might not be safe for pregnant women. Some were even avoiding using them. The team set out to debunk this myth and explore ways to enhance seat belt designs for expectant mothers.

However, their journey faced unexpected challenges. Limited research on seat belt effectiveness for pregnant women and a market flooded with untested safety devices complicated matters. The most significant hurdle, though, was the entrenched belief that seat belts could harm a fetus during a crash, leading some expectant mothers to drive without belting up.

Contrary to popular belief, properly worn seat belts are safe for pregnant women, offering better crash outcomes than going unbelted. To address these issues, Said and her team collaborated with Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The CSRC, in turn, partnered with the University of British Columbia, utilizing a specialized MRI machine to map anatomies in a seating position.

While statistics show that belted pregnant women fare better in crashes, the lack of standardized tools for assessing pregnant occupant safety prompted the CSRC to create a three-dimensional model of pregnant bodies. This model, derived from UBC’s MRI-generated data, aims to provide insights into different body shapes, sizes, and pregnancy phases.

This research aligns with Toyota’s THUMS digital crash injury model, a virtual crash-test dummy developed through extensive research on human tissue reactions to crash forces. The collaboration with UBC uses a unique MRI method to create digital representations of pregnant drivers, shedding light on how seat belts interact with bones and internal organs.

Peter Cripton, director of the Orthopedic and Injury Biomechanics Group at UBC, emphasized the exciting collaboration with Toyota, noting that the published data will benefit not only Toyota but also the broader injury biomechanics research community.

Beyond enhancing vehicle safety, the research may address the efficacy of third-party devices for pregnant women, such as seat cushions, specialized lap belts, and metal shields. With better information, including virtual pregnant crash-test dummies, researchers aim to draw more informed conclusions about the compatibility and safety of these devices with various car models.

Juliana Said emphasized the importance of research in evaluating such products, stating that what may seem obvious might not be compatible with the intricacies of a particular car’s design. Toyota’s commitment to safety extends not only to its products but also to contributing valuable research findings to benefit the broader automotive safety landscape.

Courtesy : https://pressroom.toyota.com

Leave a Reply