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Crash test dummies get fatter and frailer as humanity avoids the gym

By Cameron Kirby, 16 Feb 2017 News

Crash test dummies get fatter and frailer as humanity avoids the gym

American company develops obese crash test dummies to represent an ageing (and widening) population.

AUSTRALIANS are getting older and fatter. Fact. The population is ageing, and our collective love for processed food and our aversion to physical activity means our waistlines are blowing out too.

This proves an interesting dilemma for developers of crash test dummies, who are tasked with building the metal-and-plastic human analogues that carmakers use to make sure vehicles are safe enough to sell. If we’re getting chubby, why aren’t our crashable counterparts doing the same?

In order to remain relevant, the folks at Humanetics in the US of A have developed a new crash test dummy to represent elderly members of our population. Designed to help highlight the vulnerability of our ageing society when it comes to vehicle crashes, Humanetics’ new dummy design is intended to replicate the physical form and frailty of post-retirement road users.

In 2014 Humanetics also developed a dummy to represent obese members of the population, as a person’s physical size can play a large factor in how their body reacts in a crash.

Newtonian physics can be a cruel mistress, and when you add more mass to a person you’re also increasing the amount of kinetic energy that needs to be absorbed by seatbelts, backrests and airbags.

According to the Australian Heart Foundation the average Aussie weighs 85.9kg, while the US Centre for Disease Control says the average American adult weighs 75.4kg – however even though we Australians weigh more than our Yankee cousins, it is unlikely that obese dummies will be used in Australian crash tests just yet.

Australia’s home-grown crash testing body, ANCAP, currently uses a range of dummies to assess new cars. A 50th percentile adult male (weighing 77.7kg), 5th percentile adult female (weighing 49kg), an 18-month old child, and a 3, 6, and 10 year old child. The 50th percentile meaning a body shape that represents 50-percent of the population. The female dummy is used because of its smaller frame, as more diminutive passengers are more vulnerable in crashes.

ANCAP CEO James Goodwin says the body is constantly investigating new crash test dummies such as the WorldSID, and THOR mid-size dummy.

“The population is ageing and our testing takes this into account with a range of different crash test dummies used, including male and female adults and children,” he said in a statement to Wheels.

“Our broadening test program introduces a small adult female dummy and its design and stature provides a good indication of injury risk to older, more frail occupants.

“Additional, more sophisticated dummies are also joining our family so that we can provide consumers of all ages with a fair representation of injury risk to ensure everyone is kept safe.

“The work being done to develop a specific ‘elderly’ dummy is an important step in acknowledging our changing population and we welcome input into its development to improve vehicle safety design.

“Like other NCAPs around the world we will monitor the results of the research on the new dummy.”