Couer d' Alene Press - Thursday, July 25, 2002
SEAT BELT SAFETY
Lakeland graduate works to keep pregnant drivers more safe
is a special girl, her mother says, because she sees a problem and does
something about it. Of course any mother is allowed to be very proud of
her children, and Linda Thackray is equally proud of Laura and her three
sisters. But Laura, a former Athol resident no living in Sweden, has taken
many steps to make the world a better, if not safer, place.
now, she is leading the world's research into safer seat belts, especially
for expectant mothers. This year, working with Volvo Cars, Thackray designed
the world's first computer model of a pregnant crash dummy. The model
shows how the mother and her fetus can be impacted in a collision, including
any effect of seat belts or air bags. In addition to the trauma of an
accident that the mother could suffer, fetuses could suffer head injuries
from hitting the pelvic bone, or having the placenta detach from the uterus,
depriving the fetus of oxygen.
crash dummies have been infants or different sized-people, and other manufacturers
are looking at different pregnant models. But Thackray said the Volvo
project is the only one that includes a placenta and fetus in the model.
is doing very, very, very well," Linda Thackray said.
began work on the project in fall 2000, receiving a contract to work at
the Volvo Cars Safety Center. At the same time, she enrolled in a master's
of engineering program a Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. The
school, which works closely with Volvo, Saab and Autoliv, is considered
the MIT of Sweden.
These studies were a good next step in a longtime interest in automotive
safety. Thackray admits she's a "safety freak," a trait she
acquired from her father. She said that her father would refuse the start
the car until everyone buckled up and locked their doors. He also gave
the girls smoke detectors to take with them to various scout camps. Living
near U.S. 95 also taught Thackray the importance of safety and how dangerous
cars can be.
graduation from Lakeland High School in 1994, she signed up for classes
at North Idaho College, and then entered the mechanical engineering program
safety was still a priority, made more crucial when her sister became
pregnant. As part of her UI research, she surveyed 250 women in North
Idaho, asking them about seat belt use or common discomfort. This survey
was included in her Volvo research, along with newer data from Swedish
found that current selt belts, developed in 1959, can be confining, even
painful to pregnant women. Some solve this by putting the belt higher
or lower than it is supposed to safely go, some solve this by not wearing
seat belts at all. Neither option is safe.
had a better idea, which she's still hoping to make real some day. While
at UI, she and professor Donald Blackletter came up with a seat belt design
that doesn't dig into a pregnant woman's stomach like a lap belt, but
instead covers her stomach like a harness.
and Blackletter also published a paper in the Journal of International
Society of Auto Engineers that describes the effects of accidents on pregnant
women with normal seat belts and features her proposed belt design. "It's
like a science project with her," Linda Thackray said. "She
always had top grades."
with her UI degree complete, the effort almost stalled. Thackray applied
for a Fulbright Grant to study in Sweden, one of the premier honors given
to students who want to study abroad. She did very well on the various
qualifications for the grant, but then found out the summer of 2000 she
was an alternate, not a finalist, for the Fullbright award.
still opened the doors at Chalmers to her, but she had to find enough
money in a hurry to make it to northern Europe that fall. Hard work that
summer as a mechanical engineer at Encoder Products Co. in Sandpoint earned
her enough money for the first semester, and the school found her an apartment
with a Swedish woman and her 6-year-old daughter.
then, her mother said Laura has tried to get a variety of scholarships,
including a lot of support from the American Swedish Women Association.
"They even paid for her travel to come home," Linda Thackray
said. "She really finds a way to make it happen."
mother said Laura isn't sure what the future will hold. This summer, she's
in Italy. She'll likely continue at Volvo, but may pause in her schooling,
though some people have asked her to get her Ph.D. "I think she's
tired of school," she said.
she would like to work with Ford, which now owns Volvo. "She feels
this is a good foot in the door for her," Linda Thackray said. "She
has talked to Ford in Michigan, and they're working on pregnancy dummies,
but she thinks hers is better."
is the only one in the family to follow an engineering career path. An
older sister is a chef, a younger sister is a mom, and the youngest hopes
to be an attorney. Her parents have told every daughter that they can
take any path they want. "They're all individuals - you do your best
and let them know you care," Linda Thackray said.
a Lakeland High School
graduate, is leading the world's research
safer cars for expectant mothers.