Known officially as “anthropomorphic test devices,” crash test dummies have provided invaluable safety data since “Sierra Sam” — the first crash test dummy — was created in 1949.
For generations, though, crash test dummies looked like the perfect human specimen on the Center For Disease Control’s Body Mass Index chart: 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, ripped pecs and a 30-inch waist like the one you had in high school.
That’s not what the average American looks like today.
According to the CDC, the average weight of the American woman today is about what men weighed in the 1960s. The average weight for men has increased from 160 pounds in 1960, all the way up to 195.5 pounds, a 17.6 increase.
At the same time, Americans are getting older. Much older. Today, about one in seven Americans is over the age of 65. By 2030, that’s expected to be one in five Americans, as baby boomers reach their mid-sixties, and as we all enjoy a longer life expectancy. Right now, one in five drivers is over the age of 65.
In order for automakers to better understand how the human body reacts in a crash, Humanetics ATD — the manufacturer of crash test dummies — has been altering the size and shape of these devices to more closely mirror the size, shape and age of the people next to you in traffic. “Over the past few decades…the driving population has changed significantly in age and weight,” according to Humanetics ATD. “As lifestyles and medical advancement evolve with time, industrialized world baby boomers are now 65 and older and often overweight, and are still driving and leading active lifestyles.”
Older people are particularly vulnerable to auto crashes. In 2014, more than 5,700 older adults were killed in automobile accidents. More than 236,000 were treated in emergency rooms for motor vehicle crash injuries. Humanetics ATD is now working with the International Center for Automotive Medicine (ICAM) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) to build a crash test dummy that reflects “the anthropometry of an elderly 70 year old small female driver.”
“As the demographics of the driving population continues to evolve, our crash test dummies and the test equipment that we design & manufacture must continue to evolve at the same rate.” says Christopher J. O’Connor, President & CEO of Humanetics. “Let’s not forget the more vulnerable drivers on the road and provide a product that the car manufacturers, government agencies and research groups around the world can use to design and test a safer car for people of all sizes and ages.” he said.
Humanetics created two new crash test dummies, including one that represents a 70 year old woman that weighs 270 pounds. “The condition, size and shape of an individual is hugely important in how severe their injuries are in any given crash”, Michigan Medicine trauma surgeon Stewart Wang, M.D., Ph.D. says.”The population is getting older, and as it gets older it gets fatter as well. The typical patient today is overweight or obese — they’re the rule rather than the exception. You can’t talk about injuries without talking about the person.”
Humanetics hopes develop a test subject that best reflects the current population, which car manufacturers and restraint suppliers can use to build the safest cars possible, regardless of a driver’s age or body type. “We are very pleased with the advancement of safety features in cars today as we have come a long way, but it can’t stop until we eliminate fatalities on our highways worldwide.” says O’Connor.