Federal regulators and car makers have spent decades trying to make motor vehicles safer and more crash-resistant. Despite these efforts to improve safety, Texas car accidents still cause thousands of injuries and fatalities every year. A new study suggests that one reason for the persistence of these deadly accidents is that crash tests are based on flawed foundations.
This research points to the human models who served as the prototype for the first crash-test dummies. Apparently crash-test dummies have evolved very little since the first versions appeared 45 years ago. Some dangerous assumptions might explain why real-life motor vehicle accidents are so much more dangerous than crash-tests indicate they should be.
Researchers developed the first crash-test dummies by recruiting a group of volunteers. All of the original volunteers were young, healthy Navy sailors. The sailors helped model how the human body reacts to impacts by riding in a machine that simulated rapid decelerations.
Of course, most Americans are not young, fit and muscular male soldiers. Drivers come in all ages, physical fitness levels, and sizes. But because our basic understanding of the mechanics of car crashes is based on how wrecks affected the bodies of these young soldiers, we might be limiting our crash-testing to an unrealistic picture of the population.
On top of this inaccuracy, a second potential problem affected the original dummies. The researchers asked these volunteers to hold their necks and shoulders as firmly as possible during the simulations. This means that crash dummies modeled on those results might not respond to impacts as dramatically as a real human body in a real wreck. The dummies might be artificially prepared to weather an impact.
All of this suggests that we need to reevaluate how we test crashworthiness in new car models.
Source: Claims Journal, "Outdated Crash Test Dummies Blamed for Continued Auto Fatalities," Denise Johnson, Dec. 18, 2012