The aim of this study was to assess gender differences in the posture and muscular activity of occupants in response to pretension from motorized seatbelts. Male and female vehicle occupants were tested in both front seat positions during normal driving and autonomous braking. This data is useful for the development of human body models (HBM), and increases the understanding of the effects of motorized belts.
Kinematics and electromyography (EMG) were analyzed for 18 volunteers (9 male, 9 female) subjected to autonomous braking (11 m/s² deceleration) during real driving on rural roads. Two restraint configurations were tested: a standard belt and a motorized belt, activated 240 ms before the initiation of braking. Statistical comparison of volunteers’ posture and normalized EMG amplitudes was performed to understand differences incurred by the motorized belts, as well as to compare response across gender and role (occupant position within the vehicle). Data was analyzed both prior to and at vehicle deceleration, which occurred 240 ms after motorized belt onset.
Motorized belts significantly affected all postural metrics, and significantly elevated the activity of all muscles compared to typical riding. Though increases in muscle activity were small at deceleration onset compared with typical riding for male occupants and female passengers, female drivers demonstrated significantly larger increases in muscular activity: between 5 and 13% of the maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). At deceleration onset, standard belts showed little change in posture or muscle activation, with the median changes being well within the ranges exhibited during typical riding for all groups (i.e. not distinguishable from typical riding). Typical riding postures of males and females were similar, as were muscular activation levels—generally less than 5% of the MVC. However, drivers exhibited significantly higher muscular activity in the arm and shoulder muscles than passengers.
Limitations include the repeated nature of the testing, as prior work has shown that habituation across trials alters occupant response compared to that of unaware occupants. However, randomization of the trial order helped mitigate potential habituation effects. Another limitation is the sample size of 18 volunteers.
An important finding of this study is that the increase in occupant muscular activation seen with motorized belts was gender-specific: at deceleration, the change in activation of most muscles was significantly different across gender and belt type, with female drivers exhibiting larger increases in muscular activation than male drivers or passengers of either gender, particularly in the arm muscles. These activations appeared to be startle responses, and may have implications for interactions with the steering wheel and motion during a braking or crash event. This warrants further studies and stresses the importance of quantifying male and female subjects separately in future studies of pre-crash systems.