Last Fall Consumer Reports revealed that although most Americans killed in car crashes are male, data shows that it is fact women that are at a greater risk of death or serious injury in a car crash. A female driver or front row passenger with a seatbelt is 17 percent more likely to die, and 73 percent more likely to have a serious injury.
Crash researchers have known for forty years that the bodies of male and female react differently in crashes, but automotive research still stubbornly clings to the “50th percentile male” which is understood to be a 171 pound 5 foot 9 inch dummy first developed in the 1970’s. And that crash test dummy has not substantially changed, despite the fact that the average American man weighs 26 pounds more.
It was not until 2003 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used a scaled down male dummy to represent a woman. This dummy was so scaled down that it also could double as a 13 year old child. It is a 5th percentile crash dummy as even to 1970’s standards it represented only 5 percent of women.
Crash tests do not recognize that half the drivers in the United States are now female. The 5th percentile female crash dummy rides as a passenger, not a driver. As Consumer Reports writer Keith Barry states “Because automotive design is directly influenced by the results of safety testing, any bias in the way cars are crash-tested translates into the way cars are manufactured. So if safety tests don’t prioritize female occupants, carmakers won’t necessarily make changes to better protect them.”
Automotive safety relies on regulation to do the right thing. Using crash dummies that are not smaller models of male dummies is the first step, along with recognizing that women’s structures are different than men’s. Today’s average female is five inches shorter and 27 pounds lighter than the average male, and wear seatbelts differently and sit closer to the steering console.
While there is a new generation of dummies coming, there is still no plan to build an average female for crash tests. Called THOR (Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint) these new models are due to be used in Europe this year for testing and will collect more data than previous crash test dummies.
“Astrid Linder, Ph.D., a professor at Chalmers University in Sweden and the research director of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Institute, agrees that the length of time it could take to build a new female dummy is frustrating, but she says that is not an excuse for delaying the work further. This was the answer I got 20 years ago when I did a review as a Ph.D. student,” she says. “There is no data that isn’t possible to collect. Go ahead and do it. We know how to do it.”
Imagine~politicians and policy makers have an opportunity to create a crash test female dummy that could save lives and serious injury . Regulators could insist that they be used in crash tests.
What is stopping them?
The YouTube video below is Astrid Lindner’s TEDx talk where she describes her work and introduces the audience to EVA the female crash test dummy developed in Sweden.