Why We Need Female Crash Test Dummies

When a woman gets into her car, she assumes she is safe. There is a host of standard safety features that she likely took into consideration when shopping for that vehicle. Yet in 2020, the data automobile manufacturers base safety standards on comes primarily from studies using male form crash test dummies alone. We need accurate female crash test dummies to improve safety for women.

A 2019 University of Virginia research study showed that the odds of a female being injured in a frontal crash are 73 percent greater than the odds for a male occupant.

– Center for Applied Biomechanics, University of Virginia 2019

What Do Statistics Tell Us? 

The 25th anniversary of the launching of the Vince and Larry crash test dummy public service campaign | Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Statistics show that women are more likely to be killed or injured in a vehicle crash than men. This is due in part to a lack of data that would allow auto manufacturers to design vehicles that are safer for everyone. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention, female drivers and right-front passengers are approximately 17 percent more likely to be killed in a car crash than male occupants of the same age. 

Until recently, the only measures taken to improve data have been to substitute a smaller male crash test dummy for a female in safety tests. This poses a significant safety risk to women. Not only are females different in proportion, the female body composition is different, as well. 

How long has it been this way? 

Crash test dummies based solely on a male body blueprint that has been used in the U.S. until 2012 even though researchers have been asking for female crash test dummies for decades. According to Consumer Reports, Regulators asked for a female mannequin in 1980, and a group of automakers petitioned for one in 1996, but it took until 2003 for NHTSA to put one in the car. 

The current female crash test dummy represents a female blueprint of 4 feet 11 inches in height and weighing 108 pounds. Meanwhile, the CDC currently estimates the average female in the U.S. at the height of 5 feet 3 inches and weight of 170.5 pounds. In frontal crash tests, the current female crash dummy either rides as a passenger or does not participate in the test at all. This positioning is done even considering that women comprise 50 percent of today’s workforce and are the primary transportation providers for children in U.S. households.

How could using a female crash test dummy impact vehicle design? 

Based on height, women may need to sit closer to the steering wheel. This poses several questions surrounding seat design, side-impact safety systems, and even seatbelts themselves. With more accurate data obtained from data testing with female crash test dummies, we can vastly reduce the risks women face behind the wheel. 

When can we expect to see more female crash test dummies? 

It doesn’t seem that we will see a female crash test dummy soon. That doesn’t mean that nothing is being done. Some automakers, like Volvo and Toyota, are making an effort to address this data inequality by developing computer models to simulate bodies of different shapes and sizes studying those reactions to a collision. In the early 2000s, Volvo developed a virtual model of a pregnant woman to simulate crashes and collect data for design. There is currently no representation outside of this to gather safety data for a pregnant female form in safety testing.