Crash Test Dummies

Big news for 2012: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has decided, after three decades, to include FEMALE models in the simulated crash tests that gauge automobile safety.


This is a wonderful development.  Simply fantastic.  But somehow, I think the engineers at the Department of Transportation might have figured out awhile ago that women drive cars too (outside of Saudi Arabia, at least), and that women and children are quite frequently passengers in cars as well.  It is also not a big mental stretch for safety engineers to figure out that women’s (and children’s) bodies are dramatically different than the average 5 foot, 9 inch 172 pound male dummy prototype.


Our legs and arms are shorter, so we sit closer to the dashboard and steering wheel, both lethal weapons during frontal crashes.  Our heads - the most important part of one’s body to protect in a crash -- are positioned at lower heights vis-à-vis windows, headrests, the steering wheel, and airbags.  We get whiplash more easily. Our bones are smaller.  Our muscles weaker.


So who are the real crash test "dummies"? The people who have run these critical safety tests for the past three decades - in the process, neglecting the safety of women and children in automobiles.  Close to 80% of the auto industry is male; only one manufacturer (Volvo) has ever had a car designed by women. Did the men running the NHTSA and working in the automobile industry just never think about women’s safety and the fact that our body size makes us vulnerable in ways distinct from men?  A giant “oops, honey - it just never occurred to me that this was important to you”?


Or  -- even worse -- did they not care?


It’s not as if this doesn’t matter.  Women make up 25% of all driver fatalities, and 50% of all passenger deaths.  Women have a 47% higher chance of serious injuries than men in comparable collisions, with both genders wearing seatbelts.  More pregnant women die in car accidents than from birthing complications.


And let’s not even talk about kids and cars, except to say that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


Safety guidelines - most notably the well-known 5-Star Safety Ratings -- are established because of the NHTSA data.  Consumers use the information to decide which cars to buy to protect themselves and their families.  NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), has become a resource for traffic safety research not only in the United States, but throughout the world.