David J. Lessley

David LessleyDavid J. Lessley
Research Scientist

Dr. Lessley is a Research Scientist at the University of Virginia Center for Applied Biomechanics and has worked in the field of injury biomechanics for over a decade, with a focus on better understanding the mechanical response of the human body in order to mitigate and prevent injuries in vehicle occupants, pedestrians, military personnel, and athletes. He has extensive experience as both an injury biomechanics researcher and also as a consulting biomechanical engineer.  He is a licensed Professional Engineer and holds degrees in both engineering and medicine, with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia, and a PhD in Applied Medical Research from the University of Navarra School of Medicine in Pamplona, Spain.

At the University of Navarra he formed a research collaboration with the European Center for Injury Prevention to investigate how measured skeletal motions could be used to better predict injury in restrained vehicle occupants during motor vehicle collisions.  Over the past decade, Dr. Lessley has written over 50 peer-reviewed articles on the topics of injury biomechanics, restraint design, automobile safety, crash dummy development, and sports biomechanics.  He has presented his research in the US, Europe, and Asia and has been recognized for excellence in oral and technical presentations. He regularly conducts full-scale tests to assess human impact response, injury risk, and injury mechanisms associated with a variety of loading conditions and impact scenarios. Dr. Lessley currently serves on the review panel for multiple scientific journals related to the field of biomechanics, and has also served on review panels for the NASA Human Research Program and the Society of Automotive Engineers.  Dr. Lessley is a member of the International Society of Biomechanics, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers, and the Society of Automotive Engineers.


  • PhD – Applied Medical Research, University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain)
  • BS – Mechanical Engineering, University of Virginia


Research Interests

  • Automobile safety system design and assessment
  • Occupant kinematics and injury mechanisms in automobile crashes
  • Characterizing the mechanical response of biological materials and structures
  • Kinematic analysis of skeletal structures under dynamic loading
  • Occupant motion in rollover crashes
  • Spinal kinematics


Awards & Affiliations

  • Excellent Technical Paper Presentation Award, Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan
  • Excellence in Oral Presentation, Society of Automotive Engineers
  • University of Virginia Z Society Shannon Award
  • University of Virginia Chairperson’s Mechanical Engineering Senior Award
  • University of Virginia Chairperson’s Mechanical Engineering Junior Award
  • Society of Automotive Engineers, Member
  • National Society of Professional Engineers, Member
  • Virginia Society of Professional Engineers, Member
  • International Society of Biomechanics, Member

Selected Publications

  • Occupant Kinematics in Laboratory Rollover Tests: PMHS Response. Stapp Car Crash Journal. 2014; 58:251-316.
  • Occupant kinematics and shoulder belt retention in far-side lateral and oblique collisions: a parametric study. Stapp Car Crash Journal. 2013; 57:343-385.
  • Assessment and Validation of a Methodology for Measuring Anatomical Kinematics of Restrained Occupants During Motor Vehicle Collisions. J Biosens Bioelectron. 2011; S1:002.
  • Whole-Body Response to Pure Lateral Impact. Stapp Car Crash Journal. 2010; 54:289-336.
  • Development and assessment of a device and method for studying the mechanical interactions between shoes and playing surfaces in-situ at loads and rates generated by elite athletes. Sports Biomechanics. 2012; 11(3):414-429.


Other Interests

  • Travel, Outdoors