Gender disparity in crash-test dummies raises safety concerns

Research shows women are more likely than men to suffer injuries in car crashes. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that men generally drive heavier vehicles. And yet crash tests seeking ways to improve safety are still done using crash-test dummies representative of an average-size man – but not an average-size woman.

Origins of “crash-test dummies”

Towards the end of the 1950s, Alderson Research Labs partnered with Sierra Engineering to develop the first crash-test dummy. “Sierra Sam” first tried out aircraft ejection seats, helmets, and pilot restraints. Over the following decade, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories used that template to create “Gard Dummy” to study vehicle accidents and how cars could be made safer.

Crash test dummies remain a prominent part of not only traffic safety but also pop culture. Their popularity saw a famous rock band use the moniker name and animators depicted them in 1990s children’s cartoons.

Gender disparity in crash injuries

Gender roles have changed greatly since the 1950s, but gender equality still has a long way to go. The lack of crash-test dummies that correspond in size to an average woman is merely one example of how unequal treatment continues to harm women.

Women are more likely to suffer injury or death in a motor vehicle accident than men. For example, one study from the University of Virginia found that a female driver or female front-seat passenger’s odds of being injured in a frontal crash are 73 percent higher than a male’s.

This is why the lack of crash-test dummies reflective of the size and shape of average women is so concerning. It ignores vital biological factors including size, bone density and different positioning of the abdomen. The use of more gender-inclusive test subjects can improve the accuracy of physiology, particularly in airbag inflation and chest impact tests that provide more data courtesy of enhanced sensors.

There are also many other vehicle safety improvements that could be made. For example, safety advocates have high hopes for automatic emergency braking systems (AEB). Auto manufacturers should also look at seatbelts, headrests, and pedals that are more accommodating to all drivers, both men and women.

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