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Improving car safety: The arrival of the first female crash test dummy

Road Safety Week takes place between the 14th and 20th of November. The theme for 2022 is Safe Roads For All. This raises the question of 'what more can be done to keep road users safe?'

Over the years there have been developments in car manufacturing aimed at enhancing the safety of road users. Increasingly, new car models include rear-view cameras, parking sensors and lane assist. Dash cams are also frequently fitted to cars.

Interestingly, as technology has advanced, the tests car companies are required to undertake when assessing safety involves using crash test dummies that reflect the size and build of the average male. Separate testing is conducted to assess the safety of car seats for babies and children.

Crash test dummies are used to record data on the impact of road traffic collisions on the human body. Despite these developments, there is no set regulation stipulating that crash test dummies reflective of the average female body should be used.

Many of my clients sustain serious injuries when involved in road traffic collisions. I’ve acted for female clients that have sustained spinal fractures, internal injuries and pelvic fractures. These injuries are sustained despite correctly wearing a seatbelt. In some of these cases, my clients were trapped in their vehicles.

Research considering data from trauma centres in the UK between 2012 and 2019 concluded that females are more likely to become trapped in a vehicle following a road traffic collision and they are also more likely to sustain more hip and spinal injuries than their male counterparts

Why is this more likely?

The average male tends to be taller and heavier than the average female, and they have different muscle strengths. The current crash test dummies do not reflect the average female body. Historically, male crash test dummies have been sized down in an attempt to reflect the average female body, but the dummies are more akin to a prepubescent teenage girl. These sized down dummies do not take into consideration the differing female form, for example chest and hip size of a female adult.

Researchers in Sweden have recently created a crash test dummy that tries to match the average female body. The dummy is 5 foot 3 inches and weighs 137 pounds. The dummy differs to the usual crash test dummy in size, weight, chest size and has lower joint stiffness. Testing using female crash test dummies has generated data showing different performance rates of car seats with male and female crash test dummies. A dummy reflective of the female form also returns more accurate data on airbag crashes as females tend to sit closer to the wheel. In addition, the data provides further insight into how seat belts perform over different hip shapes with differing joint flexibility.

There is no specific regulation in the UK/Europe mandating car manufacturers to use female crash test dummies. It is hoped that this new development in Sweden will pave the way for changes to be made to improve safety features and car designs. If changes can be made to car safety off the back of further research with female crash test dummies, then it is more likely that the extent of injuries sustained by females in road traffic collisions can be reduced.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following road accidents at our dedicated road accidents section