Dean L. Sicking
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|Alma mater||Texas A&M University|
|Known for||Invention of the SAFER barrier, the first energy absorbing guardrail terminal, and other highway and racing safety advancements|
|Awards||National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2005)|
Pioneering and Innovation Award from Autosport Awards (2004)
Dean L. Sicking (born October 15, 1957) is an American inventor and safety researcher.
Early life and education
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Beginning at Texas A&M, transitioning to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sicking has devoted his professional career to the application of energy management principles to reduce the risk of serious injury and death on the nation’s highways, race tracks, and more recently on football fields and ice rinks.
Sicking holds 30 patents, the five most significant of which are: the first energy absorbing guardrail terminal, the first crash cushion without sacrificial energy absorbers, the first guardrail capable of containing large SUV’s, a trailer mounted impact attenuator, and NASCAR’s Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier. These technologies have revolutionized their respective markets. They have been adopted around the globe and produced major reductions in the number of serious injuries and fatalities along highways and race tracks.
Sicking’s innovations have produced more than $1.3 billion in sales and have prevented thousands of serious injuries and fatalities.
Furthermore, Sicking has been principal or co-principal investigator on research projects with total extramural funding in excess of $30 million. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 technical reports, more than 70 refereed journal papers and 7 books. Additionally, Sicking has developed functional performance standards for a number of different impact attenuation systems, including developing nationally accepted performance standards for roadside safety features. Sicking is in the final stages of development for safer hockey boards and a football helmet that can decouple rotation of the helmet from rotation of the head.
Energy absorbing guardrail terminals
Sicking has devoted his career to designing impact energy management systems, specifically focusing on crashworthy safety systems. Sicking has developed numerous "next generation" designs that have significantly reduced the risk of injury and fatality to motorists, from highway drivers to NASCAR racers. His first global success was the ET-2000, the first energy absorbing guardrail terminal – a device that sits over the end of a guardrail, flattening the guardrail when it is hit by a vehicle. The first study of the device showed that out of 400 crashes, there were three injuries and no fatalities — reducing the risk by a factor of 10. But even with detailed research data and real-world results showing the product a success, Sicking says he gets the most satisfaction from a personal testimonial.
"The first time this thing ever got hit was when a young lady was driving home from the library at the University of Texas," Sicking explains. "She was driving a small pickup truck with her cruise control set at highway speeds when she fell asleep and drifted off the road. She hit the guardrail at 65 or 70 miles per hour, and her only injury was a bruise across her chest caused by the seat belt. I got a very nice letter from her father describing the crash. He felt that she almost certainly would have been killed if she had hit one of the other common guardrail systems, and there is a high probability that he was right. But to hear that from a father whose daughter walked away unhurt—you live for moments like that."
The first implementation of the ET-2000 in the United States caused market prices to soar. To alleviate this issue, Sicking created a second energy absorbing systems that offered meaningful competition in order to reduce costs without sacrificing the safety performance. These two guardrail terminals are now the most widely used in the United States, Canada and Australia.
Building on his first guardrail designs, Sicking developed the first guardrail system capable of safely accommodating light trucks and SUV’s. As the center of gravity and bumper heights of SUV’s and light trucks increased, pre-1990 guardrails that based their designs on low bumper height vehicles were no longer sufficient. Larger vehicles began to exhibit a tendency to rollover, vault, or rupture guardrails. Sicking led his team to develop a guardrail system that addressed the needs of all vehicle, increasing the rail mounting height, moving rail splices from the posts to the midspan, and increasing blockout depth by four inches. To date, 27 states have adopted this guardrail design, 10 more are currently adopting it, and the remaining 13 have adopted or are evaluating slight variation of this system.
Following Dale Earnhardt’s fatal wreck in 2001, NASCAR commissioned Sicking to determine the specific cause of Earnhardt’s worst injuries. Sicking use video footage to analyze and reconstruct the crash, as well as NASCAR’s worst crashes over the 10 years prior. Ultimately, the investigation contributed to the development of the Sicking’s best-known invention, the SAFER barrier, an energy management system that reduces the impact felt by the driver by flexing and absorbing energy. Prior to the barrier, NASCAR and IndyCar averaged approximately 1.5 driver fatalities yearly. Since the SAFER barrier’s implementation in 2004, no fatalities or serious injuries associated with SAFER Barrier’s impact have occurred. In fact, the only remotely serious injury sustained has been a broken sternum. The magnitude of the impact of Sicking’s technologies is best illustrated by driver comments about the SAFER barrier]]:
Sicking has assisted in the development of fundamental performance standards that have significantly altered energy management systems in highway safety. This has resulted in an increase in required safety performance of roadside safety systems. He was second author of the Standards for Roadside Safety adopted in 1993 and principle author of the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware, adopted by the Federal Highway Administration in 2010 and currently used as the standard. These standards have since been implemented in Canada, Australia, Israel, and much of Europe as well. Sicking’s quantitative and qualitative crash analyses, similar to those he used for NASCAR, were critical components of these standards.
Sports safety research
In 2011, Sicking turned his attention to impact energy management in sports. Serious neck injuries in hockey are relatively infrequent but can be catastrophic. Impacts with the rigid walls can produce decelerations of over 100 G’s, causing severe concussions and even quadriplegia. Sicking led the creation of energy absorbing walls that have been shown to successfully reduce head decelerations by 50% under severe impact conditions. These walls are designed to flex and extend during impacts, reducing peak G’s on the player’s head by absorbing the energy of the impact. Sicking is now applying this same concept to develop both improved helmet impact performance standards and a helmet that is more flexible and can decouple head rotation from helmet rotation, thus reducing peak G’s on the head.
Awards and positions
In recognition of his effects on roadside and motorsports safety, Sicking was elected a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and President George W. Bush awarded him the 2005 National Medal of Technology and Innovation (NMTI). The NMTI is the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a citizen whose technologies have made a positive contribution to the welfare of the nation. Sicking’s efforts have also won him the first-awarded Pioneering and Innovation Award in the history of Autosport magazine, in 2004, for his work on the SAFER barrier. He has also received the 2011 Ken Stonex Award, presented by the Transportation Research Board Committee on Roadside Safety Design, in recognition of a lifetime of achievement in crashworthiness design. The Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame awarded Sicking the 2005 Vision Award for his contributions to racing safety, and countless individual raceways have honored him with their awards, including NASCAR’s 2003 Bill France Junior Award for Excellence, Pocono Raceway’s 2004 Bill France Award of Excellence, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Herb Porter Award in 2004, and the 2002 Motorsports Engineering Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Specialty Equipment Market Association, among numerous others.
Sicking is currently Associate Vice President for Commercialization and Product Development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as well as President of his own company, Sicking Safety Systems. He formerly served as Director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, during which time he developed the SAFER barrier.  Additionally, Sicking has served on a number of boards and committees, including his former position as Chairman of the Transportation Research Board from 2003 to 2006 and his current positions on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) and the Advisory Committee to the National Football League (NFL) Engineering Subcommittee. Sicking also possesses his license as a Professional Engineer (PE) in both Civil and Mechanical Engineering.
- "UAB Dean Sicking Faculty Profile". University of Alabama, Burmingham website. Retrieved 2 August 2017.
- ""Patents by Inventor Dean L. Sicking"". Justia Patents. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
- Faller, R.K., D.L. Sicking, et al., U.S. Patent No. 7,410,320, High Impact Energy Absorbing Vehicle Barrier System, August 12, 2008, Licensed to Motor SportsTechnologies, Inc., (MST), Indianapolis, Indiana.
- Reid, J.D., J.R. Rohde, D.L. Sicking, Single Sided Crash Cushion System, U.S. Patent No. 7,147,088, December 12, 2006, Licensed to Road Systems, Inc., Big Spring, Texas.
- Sicking, D.L. and B.G. Pfeifer, U.S. Patent No. 7,111,827, Energy Absorption System, September 26, 2006, Licensed to Interstate Steel Inc., Big Spring, Texas.
- Reid, J.D., J.R. Rohde, and D.L. Sicking, U.S. Patent No. 6,668,989, Trailer Mounted Bursting Energy Absorption System, December 30, 2003. Licensed to Road Systems Inc., Big Spring, Texas.
- Faller, R.K., D.L. Sicking, et. al., U.S. Patent No. 6,926,461 High Impact Energy Absorbing Vehicle Barrier System, August 9, 2005, Licensed to Motor Sports Technologies, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana.
- Sicking, Dean L., "Curriculum Vitae: Dean L. Sicking, Ph.D., P.E.", University of Alabama at Birmingham. Accessed May 8, 2016.
- Martin, Grant. "Street Smarts: Saving Lives on the Highway", UAB Magazine, Spring, 2013. Accessed May 18, 2016..
- Sicking, Dean; Ried, John; Benedict, James; Raddin, James. "Official Accident Report: Car No. 3" (PDF). autopsyfiles.org. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
- "About Us", Midwestern Roadside Safety Facility – University of Nebraska. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "NCHRP 22-14(02)". TRB:Transportation Research Board. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
- "Advancing the Science of Safety", University of Alabama at Birmingham. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Blount, Terry. "Famed Engineering Turns Eye to Football" ESPN. December 18, 2012. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Solomon, Jon. "Top Auto Racing Safety Engineer Takes a Crack at Safer Football Helmets", CBS Sports, March 6, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- James, Chris and Lewis, Nicholas A. "Could UAB’s Concussion Research Save UAB Blazer Football?", Underdog Dynasty, March 25, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Phillips, Ryan. "UAB Researcher Works to Develop Safer Football Helmets", Birmingham Business Journal, November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "NAI Fellows", National Academy of Inventors: Honoring Academic Invention. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "The National Medal of Technology and Innovation 2005 Laureates", United States Patent and Trademark Office. 2005. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "IMS President Tony George Presented First Autosport Pioneering and Innovation Award", AftermarketNews, December 7, 2004. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "Kenneth A. Stonex Award", Transportation Review Board Committee AFB20. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductees", Motorsport.com. January 14, 2005. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Smith, Marty. "Getting to the Heart of the Soft Wall", ESPN. July 4, 2014. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "Track/Race News", Jayski’s Silly Season Site, May 6, 2004. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "IRL: HPD’s Clarke, Ilmor’s Ray receive Herb Porter Award",Motorsport.com, May 22, 2006. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- "SAFER Barrier", IndyCar.com. Accessed May 18, 2016.
- Eberle, Mellisa. "Advanced Safety Education and Research - Dean Sicking". UAB. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
- "MwRSF - About Us". mwrsf.unl.edu. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
- "Drivers can thank Dean Sicking for safety improvements that save lives". USA Today Sports. May 1, 2015. Retrieved August 4, 2017.