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Crash-Test Dummies Are Getting Older, Like Real Americans

Dummy makers are also making them fatter, to replicate the impact of crashes

Crash-Test Dummies Are Getting Older, Like Real Americans

Dummy manufacturers are trying to accurately reflect the aging and increasingly obese population in America. — Duane Burleson/AP

A lot of new dummies out there are getting older and fatter. No, not human ones, but those used by automakers in crash tests.

Dummy manufacturers are trying to accurately reflect the aging and increasingly obese population in America. Which is why engineers at Humanetics, a crash-test-dummy maker, have partnered with University of Michigan trauma surgeon Stewart Wang to build a dummy that weighs 273 pounds and another that replicates an overweight 70-year-old woman.


“The typical patient today is overweight or obese — they’re the rule, rather than the exception,” Wang, director of the University of Michigan International Center for Automotive Medicine, told CNN. “You can’t talk about injuries without talking about the person.”

“The population is getting older, and as it gets older it gets fatter, as well,” Wang said.

Differences in body types can affect the injuries that carmakers and safety experts hope to avoid. Aging can cause a person’s chest shape to change, for example, which increases the rate of chest injuries 15-fold, according to CNN. Thus, the new older dummy has a chest that sags downward, with a curved spine.

“It should not come as a surprise that anatomically, an elderly person is built very differently compared to someone younger, and therefore will likely sustain very different injuries during a crash,” Humanetics says on its website.

Up to now, dummies have been based on what was considered an average midsized male and female of the 1970s. “Over the past few decades, however, the driving population has changed significantly in age and weight,” the company noted. “As lifestyles and medical advancement evolve with time, industrialized world baby boomers are now 65 and older and often overweight, and are still driving and leading active lifestyles.”


More than 40 million licensed drivers in the United States are 65 or older — nearly 1 in 5 drivers on the road, Humanetics says.

“Few would have envisioned that people would drive into their 80s,” Chris O’Connor, president and CEO of Humanetics, told CNN. “As the population changes, we must have test equipment that resembles consumers today.”

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