Car safety crash tests have been conducted for decades and people have made car choices based on the data. But, it turns out that the tests were not very realistic in recent years. That deficiency is being addressed with new fatter crash test dummies to better replicate U.S. reality on the roads.
The world’s leading crash test dummy manufacturer, Humanetics, acknowledged that the human stand-ins they have been making since the 1980s are unrealistic replicas for testing today. That is because the weight distribution for heavier people is different and reacts differently in a crash. People tend to gain weight in their mid-section, which pushes the body out of position in many car seats. So, Humanetics has developed a new obese prototype to more accurately portray today’s average American driver in future tests.
Humanetics used to use crash test dummies that replicated a 170-pound person with a body mass index (BMI) of 25. However, the manufacturer found out that obese drivers are 78 percent more likely to die in car crashes, which tests were not reflecting because they used dummies that were not representative of today’s drivers.
As a result, the crash test dummies are packing on the pounds, displaying a broader waistline and even featuring wider rear ends than previous models. The newer dummies weigh more than 100 pounds more than the old models. At 273 pounds, the new heavier dummies have a BMI. (Anything over 30 is considered to be morbidly obese by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC estimates that 70 percent of Americans are either obese or overweight at present. However, the crash test dummies are just the start of recognizing that need for change. Obese people, with larger midsections and rears sit further forward in vehicle seats. This impacts how the safety features work in a crash. Seat belts, air bags and other safety measures were designed for thinner people and tested using the older dummies and using smaller ones to represent children or petite adults. However, the equipment does not work the same for larger people.
The dummies are also taller because the American population is. However, the main change is in the rear end, thighs and waistline because that is where the weight gain has generally occurred, according to Humanetics CEO Chris O’Connor.
The new heavier dummies, which cost an estimated $500,000 apiece, will begin being used in testing by Humanetics in 2015. It is expected that the prototypes will result in auto manufacturers revamping restraints and seats to protect a fatter drivers and passengers. The company is also developing some dummies that are modeled on the changing bodies of the elderly, which will better to reflect the increase in older drivers as the Baby Boomers age.
Fatal car crash rates are at historic lows, which can be attributed to testing over the past few decades. As cars and people in the U.S. change, it makes sense that crash test dummies change (whether it means they get fatter or lose height and become more brittle with age) to better replicate the reality behind the wheel.
By Dyanne Weiss