Researchers Developing Heavier Crash Test Dummies

Americans weigh more than they used to. Most crash test dummies don't.

ByABC News
February 8, 2017, 3:38 PM

— -- Americans weigh more than they used to, but most test crash dummies don’t.

At 195 pounds, the average man is 21 pounds heavier than he was 40 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average woman, at 166 pounds, has gained 20 pounds over the same period.

The crash test dummies in use today, however, have roughly the same proportions as they did in the 1970s, when they were first introduced.

“The dummies over the course of decades have not changed at all – but the overall population has,” explained Stewart Wang, a professor of surgery at the University of Michigan.

“The vast majority of people that we see in most trauma centers come from motor vehicle crashes. And what we’re seeing is, it’s the people who don’t look like the perfect, standardized person,” Wang told ABC News. “These are the more vulnerable people that are getting hurt at a higher rate.”

Different body types fare differently in crashes. For example, obesity increases the risk of “submarining,” or sliding under the seat belt restraint.

So dummy manufacturer Humanetics is developing overweight and “elderly” dummies that reflect a broader range of physiques.

"we're getting older, we're getting heavier, you know, so the dummies have to evolve as we evolve," Jim Davis, Humanetics' vice president of engineering, told ABC News. "As our bodies change, we have to structure the dummies to mimic that change in order to let the car manufacturers manufacture safer systems."

A spokesperson from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety told ABC News: “These dummies could help engineers design different restraint systems, belts and airbags, that minimize injuries to obese people or the elderly.”