DEARBORN, MI --- Dr. Steve Rouhana, senior technical leader for passive safety in Ford Motor Co.'s research and advanced engineering and group leader for biomechanics and occupant protection, likes to joke that he works with a lot of dummies -- crash test dummies. But when it comes to protecting vehicle occupants -- particularly children -- this father of three boys takes his work seriously. 

Rouhana is internationally recognized for pioneering research in the area of human response to impact, particularly with regard to abdominal injuries and air bag noise. He has written more than 65 technical papers on basic biomechanical research, crash test dummy development and seat belts.  

Rouhana, who joined Ford in 2000 after 17 years with General Motors, is helping Ford lead development of advanced belt systems, including the inflatable belt, in which a small, tubular-shaped inflatable bag can deploy inside a shoulder belt in the event of a crash.   

"I know the fear of parents for their children's safety," said Rouhana, who has three sons.  "In our development of the inflatable belt, we've insisted on taking great pains to test possible side effects of the belt system vis-à-vis the forces involved in a crash." 

One day, during the technology's first year of development, Rouhana saw something in his rear view mirror that spurred him and the team to create a special test to determine if there would be risk of unintended injury by the inflatable belt.

 "I was driving home from a family vacation in 2001," Rouhana said. "My son Jonathan, who was five at the time, fell asleep in his booster seat with his head and neck resting against the seat belt. I realized the team needed to create a dummy test to determine the effect of the belt's air bag inflation on a sleeping child in that kind of position." 

The team modified a crash test dummy to simulate the position of a sleeping child, which allowed them to measure the forces of the inflatable belt's air bag deployment and determine that there would be low risk of injury. 

Rouhana also has channeled his parental concern over his children's safety into the development of an abdominal insert for pediatric crash dummies. Pediatric crash dummies with the more lifelike abdomen will help in analyzing the risk of serious injury to children in car accidents. Independent studies show children ages 4 to 8 are at higher risk for injuries to the spine and abdomen. Ultimately, the data gathered using both actual and virtual crash test dummies may help lead to the development of vehicle restraints that will improve the safety of children. 

"This effort furthers Ford's commitment to help protect families by focusing on one of the most common collision-related injuries among children," Rouhana said. "It will help us better understand the effects of crash forces on children's abdomens." 

Several crash dummy components on which Rouhana has worked are now in regular industry use. In addition, a crash test dummy (SID-IIs) on which he worked is in federal regulations and another (WorldSID) is being considered for regulation. 

Rouhana, who is working on a master's degree in pastoral studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and hopes to become a deacon in the Catholic Church upon completion of his studies, considers his work on occupant safety an extension of his spiritual beliefs.  

"I have been blessed throughout my life, through no merit of my own, so I want to share those blessings through my work to make the world a better place," Rouhana said.  "My faith is the fundamental driver of my actions."