Crash Test Dummies are Based on Men, But That Should Change

When it’s time to buy a new car, most American consumers spend an average of six months researching the make and model they want before finally driving one off the lot. Much of that research likely involves looking at safety ratings, especially the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-Star Safety Rating, the industry standard for safety. Unfortunately, the 5-Star Safety Rating has a significant flaw that puts millions of drivers and passengers at risk.

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, the St. Louis auto accident lawyers at Cofman Townsley Injury Lawyers can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Overview of the NHTSA Safety Test

The NHTSA runs four tests as part of its 5-Star Safety Rating. These include:

  • Front-impact collision
  • Perpendicular side-impact collision
  • Angled collision with a stationary pole
  • Rollover

Though it may seem comprehensive, a major flaw in the testing process can put female drivers and passengers at risk.

Safety Ratings are Based on Men

In the United States, the safety standards for passenger vehicles during front-impact and side-impact crash tests are based on a 5’9” male driver weighing 170 lbs. Since 80% of auto accident fatalities occur in front-impact and side-impact crashes, excluding female-based crash test dummies in the driver’s seat is troubling.

The female crash test dummy is only placed in the driver’s seat for the angled collision with a stationary pole. Currently, NHTSA must use the male dummy in testing 14 times, while it is only required to use the female dummy in 6 tests.

The female crash test dummy itself is also flawed. It is based on a 4’11” 110 lb. woman, which is in the fifth percentile of height and weight. In 2020, the average female was about 5’4” and 170 lbs. The male test dummy also doesn’t represent the average male; while the height is the same, the average American man weighs 197 lbs.

So even when the dummy is used, it doesn’t represent the average female driver. While more advanced options are available, with more advanced sensors, the NHTSA uses crash test dummy technology from the ‘70s and ‘80s for their female dummies.

Women’s Safety is at Risk

The reliance on male crash test dummies puts 116 million female drivers at risk of severe injury or death, because it means we don’t have an accurate understanding of whether female bodies are safe in the tested vehicles.

Female drivers are 73% more likely to be seriously injured in an auto accident and 20% more likely to die than male drivers. Due to differences in bone density, muscle mass, and fat distribution, women are more likely to suffer neck, head, torso, and pelvis injuries in a car accident. In addition, because of their varying height and weight, women sit differently than men in relation to the steering wheel, which impacts injuries and the effectiveness of airbags and other safety features. This is why also crash testing using female dummies is so important.

Women are also more likely to suffer whiplash injuries in an auto accident. Whiplash occurs when a person’s head is forcefully and rapidly moved back and forth and can have long-lasting negative effects on a person’s quality of life. Whiplash occurs most often in rear-collision accidents, and while Europe has introduced a read-end safety test for its vehicles, the U.S. has not.

The NHTSA Has Yet to Implement Advancements

Hybrid III crash test dummies used by the NHTSA are recognizable to most people and have been the standard since first unveiled in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, the NHTSA began researching new crash test dummies, and a new model, known as THOR (Test device for Human Occupant Restraint), was released in the early 2000s. The THOR models are considered biofidelic, meaning they mimic the human body more accurately. They also contain more enhanced sensors than those used in the Hybrid III models. Particularly relevant to women, the THOR model includes more pelvis, neck, and chest sensors.

However, the NHTSA is not required to use these updated models even though they have been largely adopted in Europe. In a requisition request for 2021, the NHTSA requested money to purchase four additional THOR male crash test dummies, funds to update their current four male crash test dummies, and money to continue researching the THOR female crash test dummy.

Seek Legal Assistance if You are in a Car Accident

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, St. Louis auto accident lawyers at Cofman Townsley Injury Lawyers can help. We pride ourselves on trusted client relationships and have been active members of the St. Louis community for over 40 years. To understand what compensation you may be entitled to after a crash that wasn’t your fault, contact us today for a free review of your case.