Source: Top Gear
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a report highlighting the inadequacy of current crash test dummies in protecting women and older people. According to the GAO, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not done enough to fill knowledge gaps or undertake research to make vehicles safer for these more vulnerable classes of occupants. As a result, the GAO recommends that NHTSA creates a comprehensive plan to improve the crash test dummy data.
Cars today are much safer than they were two decades ago. Programs like the NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks have forced manufacturers to improve occupant protection to get the all-important safety scores. Cars are now designed to deal with offset collisions, side impacts, and rollovers, as well as head-on crashes.
However, the benefits of improved in-car safety have mostly been seen by men. The most commonly used crash test dummy is the Hybrid III (M), which represents a 50th percentile adult male and dates back to 1986. While NHTSA began including female crash test dummies in 2000, the female Hybrid III dummy is a scaled version of the larger male dummy and does not reflect some of the physiological differences between men and women. In addition, the dummy lacks sensors in its lower legs. As a result, women are at greater risk of death and injury during a car crash, according to a 2013 NHTSA report.
The situation has improved somewhat over time, with NHTSA’s 2022 follow-up study finding that the differential risk between female and male front-row occupants improved from 19.9 percent greater risk of death for model year 1960–1999 vehicles to 9.4 percent for model year 2000–2020 vehicles and to 2.9 percent for model year 2015–2020 vehicles.
The report also notes that older individuals are at greater risk of injury and death during car crashes. A 2013 study found that “a 75-year-old driver is about five times more likely to die than a 21-year-old in a similar crash.” Heavier people, particularly heavier women compared to heavier men, also fare worse in crashes. However, the Hybrid III crash test dummy only uses a single chest sensor, which may not accurately reflect all the forces experienced by elderly occupants during an impact. Similarly, child-size dummies do not accurately reflect the physiological differences between children and adults, and their smaller size means a lack of room for instrumentation.
The GAO report highlights that more technically advanced dummies with greater biofidelity, called THOR, have been under development for some time and are even used in the European version of NCAP. However, NHTSA has yet to finalize a rule requiring their use in the US. The 95th-percentile dummy, which is not obese, exists but is not used in either the FVMSS or NCAP crash tests, despite the fact that 42 percent of the US population is considered obese.
To address these limitations, the GAO recommends that NHTSA creates a plan. NHTSA agreed with the recommendation, and it is expected that the agency will develop a comprehensive plan to improve the crash test dummy data.
In conclusion, the GAO report suggests that current crash test dummies are failing women and older individuals due to their inadequacy in representing their physiological differences. This report emphasizes the need for more comprehensive research and the creation of a better crash test dummy that reflects the diversity of vehicle occupants to increase vehicle safety.