Crash test dummies are about to get fat. And old. The 50-year-old standard size and shape of dummy is about to be joined by new models representing elderly and obese people.
The familiar dummy style is said to represent the average size and weight for the current population, but with more people becoming overweight and an ageing population in many western nations, an American (obviously) manufacturer called Humanetics has unveiled the two new prototypes that it says will lead to better crash protection for the old and/or overweight.
One is modelled on a 70-year-old woman with a body mass index (BMI) of 29, and the other mimics a fat man in his 40s with a BMI of 35. The sensors have been placed and calibrated to record the unique responses of these body types.
There are key differences in the way different body types handle car crashes, say the scientists involved in the project. Fat people suffer less abdominal trauma but more lower body damage in a comparable impact versus an average person. In fact, a University of California study from 2013 found that obese drivers are 78 per cent more likely to die in a car crash, owing to their ‘submarining’ under the seatbelt and out of its protective cuddle.
As for old people, traditional diagonal seatbelts can cause huge chest injuries, with Humanetics hinting at the potential for other designs that better protect more fragile bones. Five-point harnesses, anyone? Probably not.
One question we do have is whether, if these designs make it into official Euro NCAP crash testing, manufacturers will have to provide three times the amount of cars for destruction so that testers can check all three body shapes in every simulation. We can’t imagine they’d be thrilled about the extra expense…