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What is a Crash Test Dummy?

Crash test dummies are often used to determine how the human body reacts in a car crash.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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A crash test dummy is a full scale replica of a human being which is designed to behave as much as possible like a human body in a crash situation. Although most people think of automobile safety when they hear the words “crash test dummy,” these valuable tools are also used in aircraft and other vehicles to determine how safe they are. Crash test dummies can experience broken limbs, snapped necks, severed arteries, and a range of other traumas which a real person might experience in a crash; the only thing dummies cannot do is drive a car.

Almost as soon as the car was invented, it started maiming people. Car manufacturers quickly realized that they needed to implement safety features, and that they needed to test their vehicles, to find out how to make them safer to drive. Manufacturers of other forms of motorized transport such as aircraft and boats also quickly realized the value of crash testing, but researchers faced the issue of how to test safety features. Obviously, releasing a vehicle onto the market and seeing what happens is not a good idea, so researchers needed a reasonable approximation of a human body to see what actually happens when a car collides with a wall at high speeds, or when someone jumps out of an aircraft.

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The earliest research tools in impact research were actually cadavers, which make reasonable replacements for living people, except that the use of cadavers is fraught in ethical issues. In addition, cadavers are not uniform, meaning that tests conducted with them are not scientific and repeatable. Some research facilities turned to live animals such as pigs, but they faced similar issues of uniformity and ethical outcries. As a result, the crash test dummy was created.

The first crash test dummy was Sierra Sam, who was developed in 1949 to test ejection seats on aircraft. Since then, numerous versions of the crash test dummy have been created, and the technology only gets more sophisticated. Crash test dummies now come in entire families, allowing safety researchers to conduct safety tests on facsimiles of men, women, children, and infants to consider the range of injuries which may be involved in a crash. A high end crash test dummy is a sophisticated piece of machinery, and crash test dummies can command impressive prices.

A crash test dummy is standardized, so that the tests it is used in are repeatable. In addition, crash test dummies can be used to collect valuable information about how fast various parts of the body are moving on impact. A huge number of sensors are used in a crash test dummy to provide a complete picture of a crash, from the moment the vehicle being tested slams into something until it stops. Using data about what an actual human can survive, researchers can determine how safe a vehicle is.

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AnswerMan
Post 2

My biggest problem with crash dummy tests is that the test crash dummies don't react like living human beings. They may weight the same and have the same joints and support structures, but they don't panic just before a crash like humans might. I'm thinking if I saw a wall coming straight at me, I might instinctively try to crouch down or put my hands in front of my face or something. A crash test dummy doesn't do any of that, and usually takes the impact straight on.

I think the car companies still get good data from the use of crash test dummies, but I have to wonder if real life reactions might improve or worsen the chances of an actual human surviving a similar crash. If I'm an unbelted passenger, for instance, I might have time to slide onto the floorboard before impact. The belted crash test dummy wouldn't have a chance to do that.

mrwormy
Post 1

I've heard that there is a new kind of crash test dummy that is much heavier than the ones they're using now. I think the current adult male crash test dummies weigh around 170 pounds or so, but the new test crash dummies weigh closer to 230 pounds. I think the manufacturers calculated the average weight of all adult male drivers and decided that 170 or 180 pounds wasn't enough to get useful results from crash dummy tests.

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