Monday, February 7, 2011

Crash testing social entrepreneurship

Simpler children's car seat being developed by University of Michigan engineering students

By Matt Nixon

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children 3 to 14 years old, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If that doesn’t get your attention, then consider this on a global level: While 90 percent of high-income countries have laws requiring young children to be properly restrained in vehicles, only 20 percent of low-income countries do, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

As more and more cars are made available in developing countries, it is likely that lack of available child restraints could lead to a higher infant mortality rate. Rachel Strauss and Megan Bland, two biomedical engineering seniors who will graduate from the University of Michigan College of Engineering in April, have dedicated themselves to creating a solution. They’re building a simpler, more affordable children’s car seat.

Over the course of the following months, the students will be fabricating a new prototype. It is a second generation of the one seen in the crash test videos above. This first generation restraint nearly passed NHSTA’s stringent standards. The women are confident that this new version will make the grade.

“If we can create an affordable, simple design with easily accessible raw materials, and it passes the NHSTA’s standards,” says Strauss, “then we can feel secure knowing these restraints could be made available in developing countries. Many of these countries have no child restraint laws to begin with, but if we can create an inexpensive option, maybe it will encourage parents to invest in their children’s welfare, even if they are not forced to adopt child restraints by more strict restraint laws.”

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