Project: An Assessment of Cars for Small Drivers.

Reference: S0017/VF

Last update: 28/06/2004 09:24:14


The project objectives are to:

* assess the increased risk of serious or fatal injury to drivers in the shortest 5% band;
* highlight the vehicle design features that influence the risk to smaller drivers, and quantify their effect where possible; and
* based on the results of the above, develop a rating system which can be used to assess one car design against another with regard to suitability for small drivers.


Cars are generally designed around 'average' male occupants. This can cause difficulties for the smallest of drivers in operating the vehicle controls and possibly reduce the protection offered by the vehicle's safety systems. The closeness of such drivers to the steering wheel and its airbag is of particular concern. This research project will assess the problems encountered by small drivers before exploring how vehicle design could deliver improvements to make vehicles more acceptable and safer for small drivers. The research will also consider the scope for providing after-market kits for adapting existing vehicles. The objective being to ensure that all drivers are well protected and are able to drive their vehicle safely, taking into account their size or seating position.


Vehicle Safety Research Centre
Holywell Building, Holywell Way, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE113UZ

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £103,413.00

Actual start date: 26 November 2001

Actual completion date: 30 September 2003


Paper. An evaluation of airbag benefits/disbenefits in European vehicles - A combined statistical and case study approach. IRCOBI Conference Proceedings 2002
Author: Vehicle Safety Research Centre - Loughborough University
Publication date: 01/09/2002
Source: Contact:

VS1448. An Assessment of Cars for Small Drivers
Author: ESRI Ltd
Publication date: 01/09/2003
Source: Contact:

Summary of results

  1. There were four main work areas involved in this project:

    * analysis of the CCIS accident data;
    * ergonomic study of driver seating postions;
    * computer simulation of airbag/occupant interactions; and
    * production of a draft consumer information leaflet.

    The results gave an indication of additional real-world accident risks to small and large drivers, compared with average sized drivers. However, overall height may not be the only risk factor, the driving position may also be relevant and this can be addressed to a certain extent by driver education. The project also arrived at recommendations for the minimum safe distance between the driver's chest and steering wheel and provided a draft leaflet for public dissemination of advice.

    The project generally delivered the planned outputs. However, the original proposal of a formal rating system for cars was dropped because it was considered inappropriate to rate cars in terms of 'good' and 'bad' and was better to put the onus on the individual to select the most appropriate vehicle and driving position for their own needs based on a set of guidelines produced as a result of the work.