Crash testing is an important part of automotive development. It helps carmakers understand how varying impacts will affect passengers, and gives them pointers on how to improve a car’s safety features. But while the world might have got its first female crash test dummy late last year, here in the U.S. the tests don’t fairly demonstrate the safety concerns for most of the population.
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As it stands, the most popular crash test dummy used in America is the Hybrid III (M). This model, which traces its origins back to 1986, represents a 50th percentile adult male who is 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighs 171 lbs.
Now, a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office claims that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not done enough to advance the dummies used in crash tests here in America. As such, Ars Technica reports that the administration has been tasked with creating a “comprehensive plan to improve that crash test dummy data.”
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According to Ars Technica, a female test dummy was introduced in America back in 2000. This model, called Hybrid III, represents a fifth percentile adult female at 4-feet 11-inches tall and 108 lbs. But, rather than being a specially-designed female dummy, this one was simply a scaled version of the male test rig, so it did “not reflect some of the physiological differences” between men and women, and lacked sensors in its lower legs. The site reports:
“It’s dismaying but perhaps not entirely surprising, then, that women are at greater risk of death and injury during a car crash. In 2013, NHTSA found that during a crash, younger female front-row occupants were 17 percent more likely to die than male front-row occupants, and women suffered a greater risk of injuries to the chest (26 percent greater), the neck (45 percent greater), the arms (58 percent greater), and the legs (80 percent greater).
“The situation has at least improved somewhat over time. In a 2022 follow-up study, NHTSA found the differential risk between female and male front-row occupants improved from 19.9 percent greater risk of death for model year 1960–1999 vehicles to 9.4 percent for model year 2000–2020 vehicles and to 2.9 percent when looking just at model year 2015–2020 vehicles.”
Now, engineers in Europe have created a dedicated female test dummy that has slowly been brought into service at test centers around the world. However, it is not yet in use in the U.S.
Because of the shortcomings in crash testing here in the U.S., the Government Accountability Office is now encouraging the NHTSA to improve its practices, which Arc Technica is something the agency has agreed with.
The GAO has tasked the NHTSA with addressing the limitations of crash test dummies in America. The agency must take steps to better protect “more-vulnerable classes of occupants,” such as women and children, who are not currently well-represented in crash tests.
In order to make steps to address its shortcomings, the NHTSA has been asked to investigate improvements that could be made to dummies to better reflect a “range of body sizes,” allow for the “physiological differences between males and females,” and have sensors to collect crash data from all around the body.