Even though it has been about a year since female crash-test dummies came onto the crash test scene, the news passed many of us by. Had it not been for the comment of reader, I probably wouldn’t have thought to write a post on it. I just know what the ladies in my family are saying…
In the 1950s and 1960s, crash-test regulations were relatively relaxed. Ralph Nader (the man who wrote Unsafe at Any Speed) was one of many who argued that the government should focus more on redesigning the cars, not simply training and policing drivers. These efforts payed off in 1966 with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which kicked off America’s now tough safety rules. Automakers hated this act, along with Standard 201 (which basically said that occupants of a car weren’t injured in the first part of the collision, they were actually injured when they hit the interior of the car). I have family members who can attest to that fact. The automakers said that it was against the rules of physics, even though they knew that it wasn’t.
One of the things that the automakers pushed back against was the fact that Standard 201 required NHTSA to test the cars with at least two different-sized dummies. These two dummies were supposed to show the wide range of the human form. The larger dummies were 95th percentile dummies (meaning that only 5 percent of America’s men were larger than the dummy), and the smaller dummies were 5th percentile female dummies. The 95th percentile dummies were around from 1949 and Sierra Sam (the result of a contract with the U.S. Air Force).
The automakers didn’t want to have to spend more money on testing with the 5th percentile dummies. They argued that there was no such dummy. It would take far too long to develop one, and who would know what it would like?
The fed’s regulators were beaten back when they were revising Standard 201 in 1967. Hard. The automakers were happy when they learned that the regulators had lost out when they couldn’t meet many criteria and rules. But, the regulators won out with the fact that there were different-sized dummies.
But, 1973 turned out to be a bad year. First, the oil crisis happened, then the previous rules for the crash-test dummies were thrown into the shredder. The new crash-test dummy was a 50th percentile male dummy – basically the average American guy. This “guy” was called Hybrid II. Hybrid II would be our only crash-test dummy until 2011.
2011 changed everything for Hybrid II. He lost his buddy in the passenger seat, but he did get a lady. Because of the fact that the average American man was standing in for us for so long, a lot of women were injured quite differently than the guy. Why? Because they may have been shorter. Height can make the difference between life and death for a lady in a car crash. If the airbag was designed for the average guy who is about six feet, then the airbag will hit them in the chest, and create a cushion around their entire body. However, shorter women can hit the airbag chin first. This can cause severe spinal injuries to these women.
In testing with female crash-test dummies, NHTSA found that these female dummies were three times as likely to be severely injured or killed in the event of a crash than Hybrid II. Also, the female dummy is about the same size as a 12-13 year-old child. The female dummy is a petite 108 pounds, and a whopping 4′ 11″. Hybrid II is 5-foot 9, and 172 pounds. Safety activist groups are now pushing NHTSA to also make a dummy that mimics the crash responses of the elderly and ever-increasing obese populations.
However, NHTSA started out with cars that appeal to women, like minivans. Data from the North American Trade Agreement shows that there is a large influx of women driving the popular Honda CR-V. NHTSA is now testing vehicles with both gender dummies. However, women should remember that these female crash test dummies are only sitting in the passenger seat.
Much progress has been made, with much more to go. I have a mom, sister, and grandma – all of whom drive. Let’s make driving safe for everyone.