Women Finally Get a Seat in Car Safety Tests

 In Ask the Auto Professor, Vehicle Safety

A breakthrough in car safety was recently put to the test. A European-sponsored team, led by Swedish investigator Dr. Astrid Linder, announced the creation of a female crash test dummy.

The device is biofidelic, which means it looks, moves and twists in ways that resemble the female body. After more than a half-century of car safety testing, the automotive world finally has a realistic female surrogate to strap into the driver’s seat in the New Car Assessment Programs (NCAP) around the world.

Why women’s auto safety comes second

The U.S. NCAP currently uses laboratory crash tests to assign vehicles the standardized 1 to 5 stars with more stars labeling the vehicle as safer than those with less stars. (Learn more about this system and how our Auto Grades compare here. The program aims to encourage car makers to build safer cars and to inform the public about which cars to buy.

Dummies are critical in crash tests because they serve as human stand-ins. If the electronics attached to the dummy signal a severe injury in a crash, such as a neck extension or a chest compression, then the vehicle receives fewer stars.

Currently, the “average” male dummy (5 feet 9 inches tall and 172 pounds) dominates this rating system. Some research shows that young men who fit the profile of the average male test dummy have the fewest injuries in crashes so young male drivers are better protected in a crash than other occupants, women or older men. Such findings support the notion that “you get what you test to.”

New ‘female’ dummy promises safer future

Now that the new female crash dummy has been created, researchers can use the 5 feet 3 inches tall and 137-pound device to study injury patterns sustained by the “average” female and prompt car makers to create even safer vehicles, especially for women.

Right now, a number of factors put women at greater risk in crashes. Being smaller, women need to sit closer to the steering wheel. In addition, they tend to weigh less than men and have different shaped torsos, hips and pelvises. These lead to differences in how women fit vehicle seats and seatbelts.

While women’s heads are nearly as large and heavy as men’s, their necks have less muscle strength and are more susceptible to more whiplash injuries in lower-impact crashes, and higher fatality rates in high-impact crashes like rollovers and t-bones.

Our country’s leadership needs to graciously accept this important contribution from our European friends and use the new female dummy to save thousands of lives.

(Larger version of this blog appeared in Ahwatukee Foothill News, March 1, 2023.)

Working together to create a world where everyone walks away from a crash.