Female crash test dummies now required by law

August 24, 2012 12:00 AM

Vehicle safety is a top concern among consumers. However, it wasn't until recently that federal regulators required safety testing standards that would ensure the full safety of both male and female drivers.

There was a 50-year debate over which human forms to consider in safety standards and is the product of cultural resistance to considering gender differences in design, according to the Boston Globe. In the '50s and '60s, a safety movement made up of consumer advocates, epidemiologists and engineers pushed the government to not just train and police drivers, but also redesign cars to be safer.

Ralph Nader was one of the most vocal advocates and his 1965 book "Unsafe at Any Speed" brought attention to the issue and helped spur the movement into the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which created the first set of automotive safety standards. Now the automotive industry had to step up and adhere to the standards. Regulators proposed standards that the industry fought at every turn. The safety advocates won.

Of all the standards, the one that the auto industry fought the hardest is Standard 201 that requires head impact protection for vehicle occupants. The car design had to be checked for impact to instrument panels, seat backs, sun visors, etc. The standards exist because the second collision that happens within the vehicle is when people are generally hurt in an accident.

In order to comply with the law, manufacturers had to use a mannequin to check for impact points. Standard 201 also required that autos are tested using dummies in two sizes, as a tall person's head would strike a different place than a shorter person's head would. The dummies represented the 95th percentile male and a 5th percentile female.

The dummies in two sizes is important because larger and smaller forms move differently during an accident. According to Phys.org, an average-sized female body moves faster in a vehicle during impact than a male's, putting a female at greater risk for serious injury.

"Since the research indicates that women generally run a higher risk of sustaining injuries during car accidents, we need to separate the statistics and injury criteria for men and women," Anna Carlsson told the news provider. Carlsson wrote a graduate thesis published in 2012 addressing female whiplash injury protection.

According to her research, car seats do not yield backwards to the same extent when a female driver is hit causing an earlier and more powerful forward rebound.

Automakers raised a hue and cry over the 5th percentile female dummy as one did not exist and would need to be created despite research clearly indicating the diverse needs of male and female drivers in a collision. In 1967 federal regulators lost on some revision changes but maintained their hold on the two dummies. They became part of the federal code.

A female dummy didn't become mandatory in frontal crash tests until last year. The average American male represented the entire spectrum of drivers in safety testing despite the University of Virginia's Center for Applied Biomechanics finding that women wearing seatbelts were 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured than males in similar accidents.

Proper brake service and regular oil changes, in addition to high safety ratings, will go a long way in keeping passengers of all sizes safer on the road.

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