There’s Never Been a Crash Test Dummy Modeled After a Woman—Until Now

Crash test dummies have traditionally been males.
Crash test dummies have traditionally been males. / Harold Cunningham/GettyImages

You’re probably most familiar with automotive crash test dummies thanks to a series of ubiquitous 1980s safety commercials featuring Vince and Larry, who cautioned driving responsibly while flying through windshields. The spots usually ended with the tag, “You can learn a lot from a dummy.”

The duo were representative of the oddly specific crash test model: almost exclusively male. Now that’s changing.

According to Popular Science, Swedish researchers are honing a model that better reflects a woman’s physiological characteristics, which can result in dramatically different outcomes in the event of an auto accident.

“The biggest difference is when it comes to … whiplash injury from low-severity crashes,” Astrid Linder, a professor of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, told NPR. “We know since the late ’60s that females have a higher risk of these injuries than men. But we also know from higher-severity crashes that females have a higher risk of severe injuries as drivers in frontal impacts.”

According to Linder, traffic safety regulations typically only require that vehicles are tested with a simulation of an average male body. In the absence of any other requirement, that’s usually what auto makers do, despite the fact that women are more likely to be injured or killed in an accident. “I think many new vehicles do provide good safety for both men and women,” Linder said. “So the trick here is to actually assess that. So then it would require that it says in the regulation that you should use a model both of an average male and an average female. And today, the regulation tells you that you should use a model of an average male, full stop.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists a “family” of dummies used for testing, including a female model described as a “5th percentile adult female” 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 108 pounds that some criticize as being little more than a scaled-down version of a male dummy. Linder’s work would be more inclusive of varying women’s body types and better reflect how their bodies may respond in an accident. Prototypes are underway, with the hope that regulations can grow to include mandatory testing for them in the future.

[h/t Popular Science]