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Female Crash Test Dummies

Diversity and Inclusion impacts our lives in a variety of ways. At work. Outside of work. Even in your car. Sounds strange but true.

Cars are engineered to the wazoo. Aerodynamics to make sure they are as energy efficient as possible. Market research to make sure they are pleasing to the eye. And ergonomics for comfort… cupholder placement is key for me after all. LOL!!

They are also studied by the government for safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does a variety of crash tests from all angles and situations on every make and model of car. The results of these tests are given to manufacturers to help them make every car we buy in the US as safe as possible.

Key to these tests are crash test dummies. These devices help gather data on the impact of a crash on the human body. When the first crash test dummies were created they we model on the average human male.

So time for a quiz! :)

If the first crash test dummies were modeled on the average male when were the first FEMALE crash test dummies used in crash tests?

  1. 1951

  2. 1971

  3. 1991

  4. 2011

  5. Not yet

Answer in a bit…

Yes this is a tease… patience…

Now the current crash test dummies we based on the 50% percentile of the male height and weight: 5 foot 9 inches tall and 170 pounds. And the sensors are placed accordingly.

Yes this is relevant.

Think about your answer.

According to a recent study by NHTSA published in 2013 women are 17% more likely to die in a car accident: “The fatality risk of a female driver or (right front seat) passenger is, on the average, an estimated 17.0 ± 1.5 percent higher than for a male of the same age, given similar physical insults.” The study used data from calendar years 1975 to 2010, spanning model years from 1960 to 2011 and analyzed data on 242,641 vehicle records involving fatalities.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics recently reviewed data from car accidents from 1998 to 2015. This data included nearly 23,000 front end crashes involving 31,000 occupants with nearly and equal number of females and males. They concluded that “Belted female auto occupants have 73% greater odds of being seriously injured in frontal car crashes compared to belted males".

So what was your answer?

Well. It is a little complicated but if you answered (d) or (e) you would be in the right ballpark.

So in 2011 a “female” crash test dummy was introduced by NHTSA. This “female” crash test dummy was really just a scaled down male crash test dummy. Instead of using the 50th percentile height and weight they used the 5th percentile. In other words the studied crashes assume a women is the same as a 12 year old boy.

Now unless high school biology lied to me, women are a little more different than men than just height and weight… Just sayin’…. I mean it does make you wonder how often auto engineers get out ... you know?

According to the NHTSA study, women are at a higher risk of injury across the board:

Injury % higher risk than males

Head +22.1%

Neck +44.7%

Abdomen +38.5%

Chest +26.4%

Arm +58.2%

Leg +79.7%

And this “female” crash test dummy is not even used for all types of crashes or in all positions in the car. For example front end crash tests do not participate or are only a passenger never as the driver. Since 50% of the driving public is female this seems odd. So crash tests do not take into account that women generally sit closer to the steering wheel than men, as an example.

So while crash studies technically started including “female” crash test dummies in 2011, the dummies they include are not really representative of the female anatomy and they are not equally utilized in crash tests.

So technically the right answer is 2011 (d)….. But I would say they haven’t really started using female crash test dummies as yet so (e) wins for me.

As we celebrate women’s history month, please remember that Diversity and Inclusion impacts every aspect of our lives. Work. Home. Even when you are driving in your car.

As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

All the best,

Dave Terné

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Mar 15, 2022

Put this in my "I never knew column" (but now I do). Thanks for sharing Dave. Out of curiosity, how did you ever come across this? I don't remember automobile manufacturing in your background.


Mar 15, 2022

Dave...thanks for posting. Can you share this with HLDI/IIHS and ask them why they haven't been using female crash test dummies?

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