Women are more likely to sustain fatal injuries in car crashes, but new crash test dummies could change that

A digital mockup of a female crash test dummy

According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Public Health, car safety research and innovations are dramatically outdated. Although male drivers typically sustain more injuries than women in car accidents, women’s injuries are more severe — and fatal.

“We found that vehicle crash injury patterns and injury severity differ between men and women,” said Dr. Susan Cronn, a researcher and lead author for the study. “We also show that women are arriving to the trauma bay with signs of shock more often than men, regardless of injury severity.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the standard model for a male crash test dummy is 5’9” and weighs 170 pounds. Two female crash test dummies are currently used and are 4’11” and weigh between 97 and 108 pounds. These are based on an outdated 1970s model that only represents 5% of women.

Furthermore, despite the fact that almost 50% of drivers are women, female test dummies are often sidelined to the passenger side — or don’t participate in the test at all — drastically reducing available data on potential harm to female drivers. 

A female and male crash test dummy sit side by side in a Humanetics laba
Photo courtesy of Humanetics

“I think the root of this paper highlights a simple question: Are we doing everything possible to protect and care for all people equally?” said Dr. Christopher J. Wolff, of Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Ohio.

This data by Frontiers further verifies insight from a 2023 Government Accountability Office report that stipulated that crash test dummies “represent a limited range of body sizes, do not reflect some physiological differences between males and females, and do not have sensors to collect data in the lower legs.”

Fortunately, as pressure mounts from multiple findings, the NHTSA has begun taking measures to update female crash test dummies to more accurately represent the passengers (and drivers!) operating emerging car models. 

Based on the GAO’s recommendations, the NHTSA has collaborated with Humanetics to correct gender disparities in vehicle safety. The high-tech global company has already manufactured the THOR-5F: a more advanced version of the female crash test dummy. 

Progress is here, but perfection awaits. The models are not much different in size to the 1970’s models, but they better reflect the female anatomy, with breasts, a pelvic bone, and predictive sensors. 

“Our goal and our mission is to save lives and make a difference,” Humanetics CEO and President Chris O’Connor told ABC News. “We developed this test equipment to represent the current injuries and fatalities being experienced.” 

A technician works on a crash test dummy in a lab
Photo courtesy of Humanetics

Former U.S. Congresswoman Susan Molinari, who now co-chairs Verity Now, uses her platform to advocate for vehicle safety for all. 

“We’re talking about thousands of lives and serious injuries that can be saved if we employ female crash test dummies in our ratings systems with regard to crash test worthiness for cars,” Molinari told FOX 6 Now

As the Humanetics female crash test dummies await federal approval, the compounding studies from GAO and Frontiers have pressured scientists and technicians to take a more thoughtful approach to car safety measures, so that everyone feels safer on the road. 

Header image courtesy of Humanetics

Article Details

March 21, 2024 1:15 PM
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