Researchers in Milwaukee crash test cars for your safety

MILWAUKEE — When looking to buy a new car, safety ratings are important. Some of those ratings are based on information gathered at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Inside a lab at the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, a team of researchers from the Neurosurgery Department at the Medical College of Wisconsin assume a new role in auto mechanics.

“A crash test occurs probably in about a tenth of a second, and in there, we are able to slow down, see the motion that the dummy is doing and see everything that it hits,” research engineer Mark Meyer said.

The researchers use 11 high-tech cameras that shoot 1,000 frames-per-second — showing parts crushing, dummies moving and airbags deploying — all from different angles, including the windshield, driver’s side, passenger’s side and underneath the vehicle.

“We can only study a crash in the real world after it occurs. This allows you to study it during,” Professor of Biomedical Engineering Frank Pintar said.

Using sensors on dummies, the researchers measure force of impact on certain parts of the body. They can also see frame-by-frame how some injuries occur.

“Seeing how they react on seatbelts. Seeing how they react on the airbags and how they move after they hit the airbags and how they would hit any other possible structure in the car other than a safety restraint,” Meyer said.

Pintar oversees the research. It’s then sent off to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help determine a car’s overall safety rating.

“Exploring some of the theories we have of why people are getting injured in the restraint systems that are currently out there,” Pintar said.

The results are used to help provide improvements to either the vehicle’s design or its safety restraints.

The Medical College of Wisconsin conducts about 15 to 20 crash tests a year. It costs roughly $20,000 per test, minus the car.

The tests are funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Both the federal government and vehicle manufacturers provide the vehicles.

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