Car dummies sure have come a long way. Back in the day, wood, rope, and sand bags were used to recreate the human body and replicate a human’s experience in a car crash. Needless to say, the highly technical wires, rubbers, and other sophisticated materials of the modern dummy work much better as a human imitation. These materials are made to simulate human bones, ligaments, and organs.
Humanetics, a company that makes products used in auto-safety testing in the U.S. and Europe, is one of the largest creators and testers of these dummies and, to better mirror most of the American population, has recently developed an obese test dummy.
This new model of dummy is very needed, as 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This obese dummy weighs 273 pounds and has a body mass index of 35. The CDC marks a 30 BMI or above as obese.
While this dummy may help decrease the amount of obese casualties, the percentage of their deaths in auto accidents remains alarmingly high. “Obese people are 78% more likely to die in a [car] crash,” Chris O’Connor, CEO of Humanetics, told CNN in an interview. “The reason is the way we get fat. We get fat in our middle range. And we get out of position in the typical seat.”
A 2010 study of dummies suggests similar findings. This study, led by Dr. Dietrich Jehle of the Erie County Medical Center, analyzed the data from more than 150,000 car crashes in the United States and found that obese drivers are 21 percent more likely to die in a car crash and morbidly obese drivers are 56 percent more likely to die than their fit counterparts. What a scary statistic.
Even with fatality rates at a historic low for car crashes, only those in a healthy weight range seem to benefit. O’Connor says that the traditional crash-test dummies are modeled after a person weighing about 167 pounds with a healthy BMI. About this disparity between the increasingly overweight American population and the traditional dummy, Jehle says, “Crash test dummies have saved lives and provided invaluable data on how human bodies react to crashes, but they are designed to represent normal-weight individuals.”
Obese car crash victims may also be harder to treat than normal-weight victims as neck collars and transport boards may not fit, and intubations of breathing tubes and other procedures may be harder to perform.
The best way to help lower the death rate: lower obesity rates. However, that proves easier said than done for many Americans struggling with weight gain. While these individuals work toward a healthier lifestyle, we hope that the new model of dummy will lead to the prevention of a large number of car-crash fatalities.