The Development of a Method to Measure Head Acceleration and Motion in High-Impact Crashes

Stephen E. Olvey, Ted Knox, Kelly A. Cohn, Julian E. Bailes, Charles Y. Liu, Robert C. Cantu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To establish a mechanism to obtain precise measurements of the accelerations of the head in the high-speed racing environment and during crash impacts. The long-term goal is to apply this system to the assessment of head injury in automobile racing drivers and then in participants in other helmeted sports. METHODS: A multidisciplinary team conceptualized, designed, and successfully tested a triaxial accelerometer system capable of measuring head acceleration and motion in high-impact crashes. The system has been implemented successfully in the professional racing environment. RESULTS: Accurate and reproducible data have been obtained from the accelerometer system in tests on manikins and cadavers and in actual racing events. The system has been implemented in two professional racing series in 2003. Information gained from the accelerometer system is currently being entered into a database. Eventually, the data should aid in the development of improved cockpit head protection in racing cars. Improved helmet design not only in motor sports but also in other helmeted sports should benefit from the data collected. These data will also aid the development of improved head injury protection in military aircraft and passenger vehicles. CONCLUSION: Although there has been a significant decrease in the overall rate of injury during the past 25 years, head injury remains a serious safety concern in motor sports and the greatest cause of death. Sports-related head injuries are also of great concern because repeated mild head injury has become an important health issue with potential long-term disability. True human tolerance to brain injury has yet to be established. Our scientific knowledge of brain injury is currently based on results derived from manikin, cadaver, and human volunteer testing, along with animal and computer models. The racing environment represents a venue to ethically measure and evaluate the forces involved in human brain injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)672-677
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Ear accelerometers
  • Head impact analysis
  • High-velocity traumatic brain injury
  • Measured head accelerations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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