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Changing Crash-Test Dummies for Changing Bodies

The company that is responsible for making all the crash-test dummies used in the United States has finally decided to make models that reflect the country’s changing body shapes.

In the 1970s, crash-test dummies weighed what the then-average male weighed—about 170 pounds. These same dummies (or same shape of dummies) have been used ever since.

But as our population swells in waist size, car manufacturers are finally realizing that they need to change the way they test the safety of automobiles if they want to keep their customers safe.

The sole US manufacturer of dummies, Humanetics, has decided to begin doing just that. They have teamed up with University of Michigan trauma surgeon Stewart Wang to develop dummies that reflect our populations growing weight.

In this effort, Humanetics and Dr. Wang have created two dummies, one to represent the obese and another to represent the aging population. The obese dummy weighs in at 273 pounds; 100 pounds heavier than the current dummies in use. The “older” dummy is modeled after the body of a 70-year-old woman.

Dr. Wang—director of the University of Michigan’s International Center for Automotive Medicine (ICAM)—and his team created the new dummies using computerized scans of 6,000 human bodies. They then took this information and created an average with which to build their new model.

Dr. Wang told ABC News that, “The typical patient today is overweight or obese—they’re the rule rather than the exception. You can’t talk about injuries without talking about the person. The population is getting older, and as it gets older it gets fatter as well.

Understanding American Obesity

Overweight and obese are two terms that Americans have grown accustomed to hearing (and experiencing). That’s because our nation has swelled at record rates over the last 40 years. According to the Department of Health1, more than 2 out of 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Additionally, 1 in 20 adults are considered extremely obese (or having a body mass index over 40). And our children are right behind us. According to the same statistics, about one-third of children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese. By the time that same group reaches adulthood, they may surpass the current rate of adult obesity.

With facts and figures this staggering, it is no wonder that crash test dummies need to be modified to more accurately reflect the changing population. If the dummies used to test car crashes remained at the weight and build they were in the 1970s, we would end up with cars that could only keep 33% of people safe.

Obesity and Crashes

According to a study done by UC Berkeley, overweight drivers are 78% more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than their average-weight peers. The study used data from over 40,000 crashes to generate their findings. There is even a positive correlation between weight and death from a car accident. In other words, the heavier a person is, the more likely they are to die.

When UC Berkeley came out with this study in 2013, they drew a conclusion that auto manufacturers are just now starting to draw themselves. In an article published about the study, one of the lead researchers is quoted as saying, “It may be the case that passenger vehicles are well designed to protect normal-weight vehicle occupants but are deficient in protecting overweight or obese occupants. Vehicle designers are teaching to the test—designing so that crash-test dummies do well, but crash-test dummies are typically normal size adults and children. They’re not designed to account for our nation’s changing body types.”

For example, obese drivers who are involved in a frontal car accident often do something called “submarine”, in which they slide underneath the lap portion of the seatbelt during impact. This causes obese drivers to sustain more severe lower-extremity injuries and twice as frequently as their normal-weight peers.

This not only translates into more injuries but higher treatment costs as well. Wang estimated that drivers who suffer from obesity-related injuries during an accident spend $2 billion to $4 billion a year on medical bills. Their injuries also take longer to heal because of the increased weight placed on their bones and tissue.

This increase in injury and lengthening of treatment time often highly inflates these patients’ medical bills. The simple fact is, an increase in weight translates to an increase in injuries and altogether different injuries. Current dummies cannot predict these or protect drivers from them. This is what Dr. Wang is hoping to help fix.

Older Adults React Different in Crashes

As the baby-boomer generation ages into their golden years, there are a lot more elderly people driving on the road. In previous decades, it would have been hard to imagine people driving until they were 70, 80, or even 90. Today, that is the norm. This needs to be reflected in crash testing.

One of the ways in which the new, elderly-modeled dummy has changed is in the shape of the chest region. As people age, their chest often changes shape and sags. In car accidents, this difference can amount to an increase in injury of up to 15 times.

The elderly dummy also has its weight distribution shifted downwards and its spine more curved—a reflection of the body shape of older people. Like an increase in weight, an increase in age often causes drivers to sustain different and more serious injuries. This, too, causes an increase in the cost of treatment and a burden on the affected population.

When the current crash-test dummies were invented, obesity was a rarity. Today, it is not. In the past, a person driving at the age of 80 was rare. Today, it’s not. Times have changed, so it is time to change how we do things—one of them being the testing of car safety.

Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

Improving automobile safety is as important to auto medicine as any other field of concern. Safer cars mean less injuries and less medical bills, keeping costs down and people safe. If you are injured in a car accident, the personal injury attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA will work to obtain you the compensation you deserve.

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