Car Accident Law: The Shocking History of Crash Test Dummies

Car Accident Law: The Shocking History of Crash Test Dummies | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

Passenger safety should be a top priority for anyone on the roads or in the auto industry. When vehicle safety mechanisms fail to properly protect occupants of a vehicle, our auto accident attorneys vigorously help victims to secure maximum compensation for their injuries. Fortunately, in recent years passenger safety has become a more prominent part of the car design process.

Although automakers have crash tested vehicles during the design phase for many years, these tests were not always as comprehensive as possible. A recent Chicago Tribune article highlights the reason why testing did not provide all passengers with an equal guarantee of safety. The reason is simple, crash test dummies were modeled after an average American male, completely leaving the fragile female physique by the wayside.

Crash test dummies became a part of vehicle safety in 1949 when the U.S. Air Force engineered the first dummy, Sierra Sam, as part of a contract. With the advent of a dummy, the conversation about passenger safety heightened. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the auto industry and safety advocates essentially went to battle over what would constitute federal testing requirements.

The safety advocates wanted a dummy representing males and a dummy representing females at the very minimum. Ideally crash tests would use both a small and large version of each sex. The sizes of dummies became a point for contention along with a theory about what in a car accident leads to injury. A theory emerged that humans were actually injured during a ‘second collision’ rather than upon initial impact.

Second collision refers to the time during the crash when occupants physically collide with interior components of the vehicle such as the windshield or the dashboard. Interestingly, the term originated from safety advocates, and the automakers never did affirmatively acknowledge or dismiss the validity of the idea the term represented. Rather than acknowledging concerns about second collision and safety for passengers of different body types, the auto industry pushed hard to minimize safety standards. The industry advocated for lenient safety testing standards on the premise that developing a female dummy would be cost prohibitive and overly time consuming. 

In 1973 safety advocates won their first major battle towards having different sized dummies. The federal regulations began requiring a male and a female dummy. Despite this apparent success, the female dummy somehow fell by the wayside yet again. The dummies that should have been used after the 1973 regulation adjustment were meant to represent the 95th percentile male and the 5th percentile female. These percentiles mean that only five percent of U.S. males would be larger than the male dummy, and only five percent of females would be smaller than the female dummy.

Somehow the auto industry successfully snaked around these requirements and instead developed a dummy that represented the 50th percentile male. Fiftieth percentile means the dummy was representative of the average American man. Shockingly the dummy in use stayed at the average male benchmark until only a year ago!

The switch in 2011 requiring a female dummy in all accidents is certainly a positive move, but it might also leave family members of those seriously injured in a crash feeling like the industry did too little too late. The recent switch means that there will still be vehicles on the road for many years to come that were only tested for male passenger safety. Studies have shown that the difference between male and female body types means that many females are at a 47% greater risk than males for sustaining seriously injuries in a wreck.

If you or a loved one is seriously injured in a car crash you might be eligible for compensation. In the American legal system automakers can be held liable for injuries resulting from faulty vehicles. For example, if your brakes fail and cause you to crash, the car company could be held responsible for your injuries as a result of their faulty manufacturing. Contact our experienced car accident lawyers today to get a clearer picture of the compensation you deserve.