Crash Test Dummies Are Mainly Young Men & That Has to Change

Select Car Leasing has been doing a bit of research and found that there is a potentially dangerous bit of bias in the crash test dummy sector of the automotive industry.

Why does this matter you ask? Well if car makers aren’t using a wide range of pretend humans for crash testing, then surely the insurance industry has to be more sceptical when it comes to accepting the NCAP safety ratings awarded to various models. Fact is, if you test using just one typical `young fit male’ dummy, then you’re not getting the bigger picture. Here’s the word from Select Car Leasing;

As reported by Business Insider, American car companies use only one type of female test dummy, she’s five feet tall and weighs 7.8 stone. An average American woman weighs 12.2 stone and stands nearly four inches taller than the test dummy. Female car-crash victims are more likely to die or suffer a serious injury in a collision regardless of other mitigating factors such as ability, the car model and seat belt usage. Incredibly, until 2003 only male test dummies were tested in vehicles.

Dr David Lawrence, Director of the Centre for Injury Prevention Policy & Practice at San Diego State University, told ABC News in 2012 “Manufacturers and designers used to all be men. It didn’t occur to them they should be designing for people unlike themselves. Well, we got over that.” The need for a male and a female test dummy comes down to the “ways that men and women are different bio-mechanically,” Jason Forman, a principal scientist at UVA’s Centre for Applied Biomechanics and a study author, told CityLab.

female injury risk in car accidents

Back in the EU – the situation isn’t much better. According to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes,

“Current EU regulatory crash test requirements define five tests that must be passed before a car is allowed onto the market. None of these tests are required to be carried out using an anthropometrically correct female dummy, whereas four out of the five tests specify the use of a 50th percentile male dummy. There is one regulatory test that requires the use of a 5th percentile female dummy, which is meant to represent the whole female population. This dummy is only tested in the passenger seat and no data is available on how a female driver would be affected.”


Back in 2011, a study by the University of Virginia Centre for Applied Biomechanics revealed that female drivers involved in car crashes were 47% more likely to fall victim to a serious injury or death than their male counterparts. It’s the same story when talking about moderate injuries, with the likelihood compared to men increasing to 71%. That landmark research was the first time this dangerous motoring gender divide in-car safety had ever been quantified.

Fast forward to 2020 and the picture remains bleak. A new paper published by the University Of Virginia research team in 2019 has now found that the odds of a female sustaining a serious injury or death is 73%, or in other words 26% higher than in 2011. The latest study analysed 31,000 motorists between 1998 and 2015. It shows there has been no progress over the past 10 or so years in equalling the gender danger gap during car accidents.

This data is supported by research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They broke down the increased risk to females when in a car crash by body part. In some cases, such as leg injuries, females are an astounding 80% more likely to get injured than their male counterparts during a car crash.

Then there is the question of age, not just gender. A 2016 report published by the EU noted that the crash impact to the chest that could be sustained by a young male, was obviously far greater than a lesser impact that an older female might be able to bear without serious injury. As demographics have changed across the car sector in the last decade or so, maybe it is time the testing regime chose an alternative to the young fit male crash test dummy?

In the USA the University of Michigan are doing research, aimed at helping the industry develop a range of crash test dummies, that can accurately reflect the ageing population, male vs female differences, and the increasing numbers of obese people driving in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe.


About alastair walker 6830 Articles
20 years experience as a journalist and magazine editor. I'm your contact for press releases, events, news and commercial opportunities at Insurance-Edge.Net

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