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Dummies used in crash tests don't represent average female

Posted February 11, 2020 7:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2020 9:42 p.m. EST

— Most of us know crash dummies, with their blank faces and androgynous features, are used for auto testing.

Over the years they’ve contributed to making cars safer for everyone. Results have a direct impact on how cars are designed to make them safer. One major problem is the physical characteristics of the dummies represent a very specific type of driver: an average adult male.

Researchers say that poses a safety risk to women.

“There are no crash test dummies that represent the average female in our country,” said David Friedman, Consumer Reports Advocacy Expert. “And that’s despite the fact that women are nearly half the drivers and are more than half the population.”

Study on crashes

A recent study from the University of Virginia reveals a seat belt-wearing woman is 73 percent more likely to be seriously injured in a frontal car crash than a man.

“This has been a clear problem since at least the 1980s, back when the regulators actually first asked for there to be dummies starting to represent women,” Friedman said. “What they got was a scaled-down version of a male dummy that today is so small that really it represents a young teenager.”

Study on crashes

The Auto Alliance, a US automaker trade group, told CR they don't believe a female dummy would be useful. The reason they say is today's American females are closer in size to the male dummy being used for testing.

Consumer Reports injury biomechanics expert Dr. Emily Thomas says the concerns involve more than just size.

“It’s not enough for us to just take the male dummy and scale it down to the size of a female," Thomas said. "There are important physiological differences between men and women that makes our bodies react differently during a car crash.

Study on crashes

"That’s why it’s important for us to account for these biomechanical and material differences in our dummy design.”

Government agencies are evaluating a new set of dummies, called THOR. They have been in development since the 1980s and may be used in European crash tests as soon as
2020. They’ll be able to collect more data than the current model. However, there are currently no plans for an average female THOR dummy.

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