Submarining and Abdominal Injury for Rear-Seated Mid-Size Males during Frontal Crashes

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Historically, the rear seat has been considered safer compared to the front seat for all restrained occupants; however, studies have found that the front seat in newer vehicles might be safer for older adults than the rear seat. While adults make up only 19% of rear seat occupants in frontal crashes, they make up 48% of fatalities (Tatem and Gabler, 2019). The rate of rear-seat occupancy by adults is expected to increase due to the use of ride share services and the potential of autonomous vehicles. Minimal research has been done to assess rear-seat occupant protection for a mid-sized adult male. Submarining, in which the lap belt slips off of the pelvis and directly loads the abdomen, is of particular concern as a restraint-based injury mechanism of the abdomen. The objective of this study is to investigate submarining protection and abdominal injury risk for rear-seated mid-sized male occupants in frontal crashes and to assess the biofidelity of two anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs) with respect to submarining response when compared to post-mortem human surrogates (PMHS). Twenty-four frontal crash sled tests were conducted with the THOR-50M and Hybrid III 50th-percentile male ATDs in three crash conditions and seven modern vehicles. The vehicles included a minivan, an SUV, 3 compact SUVs, and 2 sedans from the US vehicle fleet (model years 2017-2018). Four vehicles had conventional restraints (ie. 3-point belt with retractor at the shoulder) in the rear seat and three vehicles had advanced restraints (ie. 3-point belts with a pretensioner and load limiter at the retractor). Two of the crash conditions were vehicle-specific pulses: NCAP85 (ΔV = 56 kph) and Scaled (ΔV = 32 kph). The final pulse was a Generic (ΔV = 32 kph) pulse, created by averaging all seven Scaled pulses. Matched PMHS tests were conducted on four of the vehicles in the NCAP85 condition. Two tests were conducted for each vehicle with 8 PMHS for a total of 8 sled tests. The occurrence of submarining was identified and assessed for severity by: symmetry of lap belt slip, degree of abdominal loading, and forward excursion of the pelvis. Pelvis and lap-belt kinematics were assessed for the matched NCAP85 tests to identify trends with respect to submarining. Damage to the abdomen, pelvis, and lumbar spine of the PMHS was identified during post-test autopsy. The Hybrid III did not submarine in any test, but the THOR submarined in 16/24 tests. Three PMHS underwent submarining in 2/4 vehicles, and the THOR submarined in 3/4 vehicles in the matched NCAP85 tests. Three PMHS did not undergo submarining but sustained pelvis fractures at lap belt loads of 7.4 kN and higher, and damage to the abdominal viscera occurred regardless of submarining occurrence. Pelvis and lap-belt kinematics revealed the complex nature of the interactions of the occupant and the restraints within each vehicle environment, but did not clearly differentiate between submarining and non-submarining tests. The Hybrid III was not able to predict submarining risk for the PMHS in the rear seat environment. While the THOR underwent submarining, it was not perfect in predicting submarining risk. Pelvis geometry, lap belt engagement, and other factors contributed to the differences in submarining between the two ATDs and the PMHS. Restraint type was not indicative of whether or not the THOR or PMHS would submarine. Many other factors in the rear seat environments of these vehicles likely contribute in combination to the effectiveness of submarining prevention and occupant protection in the rear seat. This study provides information regarding submarining and abdominal injury for three surrogate types, two crash severities, and seven modern, real-world vehicle environments. Ultimately, this study found substantive gaps in occupant protection in the rear seats of modern vehicles for mid-sized adult male occupants.

Tatem, W. M., and Gabler, H. C. (2019). Differential fatality risk between rear and front seat passenger vehicle occupants in frontal crashes. In Proceedings of the 2019 International IRCOBI Conference on the Biomechanics of Injury (pp. 554–560).



ATD, PMHS, Submarining, Abdominal Injury, Frontal Crash, Rear Seat Safety