Female Crash Test Dummies, Where Are You?

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Female Crash Test Dummies, Where Are You?

Crash test dummies based on the ‘average’ male are just one example of design that forgets about women and puts women’s lives at risk.  


A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics revealed that belted female vehicle occupants have 73 percent greater odds of being seriously injured and are 28 percent more likely to die in frontal car crashes than men. 

The reason being is that most vehicle-crash safety tests use a female dummy that is based on the male body type and said dummy is not put in the driver’s seat for frontal crash tests. In the United States, automobiles are not required to be tested with the safety of women in mind, as reported by ABC News.

In Malaysia, The New Car Assessment Program for Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN NCAP) has such a huge influence in the market that a 5-star rating is very much sought after by car buyers. This has driven car manufacturers to get the highest possible rating in order to appease the consumer, and some would even use the NCAP rating as part of their marketing strategies.  

However, the 5-star rating does not include female dummies in the driver's seat for frontal crash tests. As of now, ASEAN NCAP only uses two ratings for its assessment regime, namely the Adult Occupant Protection (AOP) and Child Occupant Protection (COP), which is then converted to a 0 to 5 stars rating.  

In AOP, two units of HIII-50M dummies (resembling men) are positioned in the front seats of a test vehicle, meanwhile a small female dummy, HIII-5F is placed at the rear seat alongside a child dummy. In the course of an accident, the crash impact finding for a female is only as a passenger but not as the driver? Now the 5-star rating doesn’t look too appealing for women, does it?  

Furthermore, a study by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and MIROS revealed that the Hybrid III family which is used worldwide as references for human surrogates in frontal-impact crash testing, may not be ‘sufficiently representative’ of the current US population, as well as for the Chinese and Malaysian populations. 

The study collected data from 1,321 Malaysian adults comprised of 708 males and 613 females, ages ranging from 15 to 80 years old with Malay, Chinese or Indian ethnicity. Comparison of both statures and body weights of Malaysian adults are higher than the Anthropometric Test Devices (ATD), or crash test dummies.   

For example, the reference values of body weights for small female dummies, nominally at the 5th percentile, is smaller than 95 percent of the adult female population, currently at the 25th percentile. This shows that the dummies used in frontal crash tests weigh roughly 30 pounds less than today’s average Malaysian women.  

This has major implications for the safety of women driving cars, plus it is likely many women will experience higher head and neck injuries than the ‘misrepresented’ male dummy in the driver’s seat.  

Women and those who are small-statured are susceptible to serious injury from airbags, the study added. “Airbags deploy at 200 miles per hour and can do a great deal of damage. If an occupant is small in stature, they necessarily sit close to the steering wheel to reach the foot pedals, which puts them directly in the path of the powerful force of an airbag”.  

With the disparity in injuries between men and women, it might seem like a no-brainer to simply make a female crash-test dummy that reflects the average height and weight of women today and put her in the driver’s seat during tests. But why it hasn’t been done?  

“Dummies, because you have to design and build them and they require many years and millions of dollars to develop, there just aren't that many of them out there,” says Jason Forman, a principal scientist at the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics. “Creating a female crash test dummy would be ‘enormously expensive’ and will take 15-20 years”.  

Hence, male dummies are still the most tested, and therefore, far less or no real data is available regarding how car crashes can affect the safety and lives of women drivers.  

Euro NCAP, a European organisation that provides car safety ratings for consumers, acknowledged that ‘sometimes’ they use scaled-down male dummies in crash tests. But in reality, women are not scaled-down men. We have different muscle mass distribution. We have lower bone density. Even our body sway is different. And these differences are all crucial when it comes to injury rates in car crashes. 

After all, women make up more than 50 percent of the world population, so shouldn’t at least 50 percent of the crash test dummies used to test the safety of cars be comprised of female crash test dummies?  

This writer believes that it is time to remove women from the back seat of a car because women drivers also have the right to know whether a particular car will protect them in the event of a car accident, don’t they? 




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