Outdated crash test dummies blamed for roadway deaths

We’ve all seen the videos: a minivan crashes against a black and yellow striped barrier, an airbag deploys, and a crash test dummy slides forward and buries its head in the safety device. A second later, the dummy falls back into the seat. Researchers come onscreen, stating that the dummies were perfectly all right. Clearly, it’s a very safe vehicle.

We all value crash tests as a way to measure and improve vehicle safety. But in recent years, researchers have been asking the question: if crash test dummies survive so many crash tests, then why are people still dying in real crashes? In fact, 35,000 people die each year on roadway accidents. Are all of these deaths unavoidable?

Some researchers are saying no, and they place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the crash test dummies. Specifically, many now question whether the dummy’s design is a suitable analogue to the human body.

When crash test dummies were first designed, they were modeled after volunteer Navy sailors. The sailors were placed into a machine that quickly accelerated and stopped the men. During the test, the men were asked to tense their neck muscles as hard as they could, to help the volunteers resist the inertia exerted by the machine.

Modern crash test dummies, then, are based on data compiled by observing young Navy sailors with tensed necks. Since many people do not fit this description, an argument could be made that crash test dummies do not properly represent a human crash victim.

This could have serious implications for those who become involved in a car accident. Perhaps in the future, the current dummies will be replaced with more accurate models, or even computer models capable of carefully predicting stresses and impacts. The change could mean the difference between life and death for many of America’s accident victims.

Source: Claims Journal, “Outdated crash test dummies blamed for continued auto fatalities,” Denise Johnson, Dec. 18, 2012