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Suzanne TylkoProfile: Suzanne Tylko

Manager has empathy for people—but not the dummies she works with

"I crash cars, buses and trucks," says Suzanne Tylko. "Can’t get much more exciting than that, now can it?"

Suzanne doesn’t work at a demolition derby, if that’s what you’re thinking. She’s the Chief of Crashworthiness Research at Transport Canada, and the dummies are not real people.

"The work I do has a direct impact on how protected you are in your vehicle," says Suzanne. "I conduct crash tests to evaluate the protection of adult and child passengers provided by seat belts, air bags and all types of child restraints in cars, trucks and buses."

Suzanne says physical crash testing is vital to making vehicles safer. Even in this day and age, computer simulations can’t replace physical testing.

"I have a really good sense of how
the human body works, and I have
a good sense of how forces and
acceleration affect the body. This
combination of knowledge helps me
do a great job."

"Computer modelling cannot be used by itself. You need to do the physical test to make sure that the calculations are right and that the car was assembled correctly."

Suzanne evaluates new technologies. She also looks at existing technologies to make them work better together and adapt them to the needs of a changing population.

"There’s a lot of work with seat belts, side air bags and seat technologies," she says. "We’re working with manufacturers to design a seat that works with the seat belt to bring you to a gentler stop."

"That’s become more important now because occupants are getting older and their bones are more brittle."

Academy of auto accidents

Suzanne Tylko

Suzanne’s crash tests are different from those conducted in the private sector. Her approach is to try to look at the potential safety risks in every possible crash situation, not just those specified in the regulations.

"Safety requirements for industry tests tend to be quite narrow in scope because everyone has to meet them," says Suzanne. "They’re very explicit—a precise speed, a specific position in the vehicle, an explicit occupant size."

Some regulations, for instance, require manufacturers to test using a male dummy only or dummies only in the front seat of the vehicle.

She tests situations other than those specified by the regulations. For example, she substitutes a female dummy, or puts dummies in the back seat of vehicles to see how they’d fare in a crash. She tries to be as realistic as possible.

One of the keys to creating a realistic test, says Suzanne, is to install safety products such as child seats the same way an ordinary person would, and not necessarily follow a strict protocol.

"I put them in as a typical parent would, following the manufacturer’s instructions, but my child dummy is placed in more child-like positions."

Huge advances in safety

Suzanne Tylko

If a problem is found, there are two options: contact the manufacturer directly and inform them that there is a problem, or contact Transport Canada's defects investigation division and alert it that there may be a potential defect.

Suzanne stresses, however, that the first option is her first choice, and it works most of the time. She rarely has trouble getting automakers to acknowledge a safety breach and fix it.

She looks for new safety solutions all around the world. "I’m part of a fairly tight community of evaluators," she says. "This is where the testing comes to fruition. We sit on different working groups, and we discuss how best to tackle certain issues, what to invest in next. We’ve made huge advances in safety."

Nursing background

Suzanne started her career as a nurse, then gravitated toward engineering when she became interested in the technology used in the intensive care unit where she was working.

Now, with a degree in nursing and another in mechanical engineering, she is well equipped for her work.

"I have a really good sense of how the human body works, and I have a good sense of how forces and acceleration affect the body," she says. "This combination of knowledge helps me do a great job."

"It also gives me a lot of empathy for the people who are involved in crashes."

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