Crash Test Dummies for Cars are Modeled after Men. This Puts Women Drivers At Risk

by Aryn Plax

Mar 6, 2020

Men are more likely than women to end up in car crashes, according to U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). That means, broadly speaking, men are overall more likely to experience fatal car accidents. But among those involved in car crashes, women are anywhere from 47% to 71% more likely to be injured and 17% more likely to die, even when accounting for factors such as height and weight, risky driving behaviors and severity of the crashes.

Guardian reporter Caroline Criado-Perez writes that this is due to how cars are designed and tested, citing research by Astrid Linder of the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute.

To test for safety, a car model has a dummy placed in the driver’s seat (and passenger seats) and then placed in different collision scenarios. Later, data gathered from the test is analyzed to check for possible injuries a driver or passenger could sustain in a crash. The problem lies in the dummies’ design; they are mostly modeled after men.

What happens when dummies modeled after women are introduced to the collision tests? According to Criado-Perez, safety ratings plummet.

These female test dummies aren’t always modeled after women. Sometimes, they’re just scaled-down male dummies that don’t account for bodily proportions, muscle distribution, bone density, or how vertebrae are spaced in women’s spines. These bodily differences can make a substantial difference in how women are protected or injured in car crashes, and how car designs can exacerbate certain vulnerabilities.

Women drivers are at a greater risk of internal injury on frontal collisions and whiplash injuries in rear-end collisions. This is because, on average, women are shorter and lighter than men. Their need to sit closer to reach the pedals and sit upright to see what’s in front of the car means they are always sitting “out of position.” The difference in muscle distribution on women’s upper bodies means that women are three times more vulnerable to whiplash injuries, and the too-firm car seats don’t protect women from those injuries, according to research by Astrid Linder of the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute.

Linder also found that when female dummies are used in collision tests, they’re usually placed in the passenger seats.