Nearly half of American drivers are women but the crash test dummies used to test whether cars are safe are modeled on men.
Despite their blank faces and androgynous features, most dummies used in auto crash tests represent the so-called 50th percentile male. The dummy first standardized in the 1970s is 171 pounds and 5-foot-9 — though the average American man is now about 26 pounds heavier.
"There are no crash test dummies that represent the average female in our country, and that’s despite the fact that women are nearly half the drivers and are more than half the population," Consumer Reports advocacy expert David Friedman said.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration shows that a female driver or front passenger who is wearing her seat belt is 17 percent more likely than a male to be killed when a crash occurs.
A 2019 study from the University of Virginia shows that for a female occupant, the odds of being injured in a frontal crash are 73 percent greater than the odds for a male occupant. That’s controlling for occupant age, height, and body mass index, in addition to collision severity and vehicle model year.
Regulators began pushing for female-representing dummies in the 1980s, and they were met with a false sense of a solution: a dummy appearing to look more like a teenage boy than an adult woman.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American woman is 5.4 inches shorter than the adult man, and weighs about 27 pounds less.
There are physiological differences between men and women which must be accounted for as well.
“Females are not just smaller versions of males,” said Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Kristy Arbogast. “They’re put together differently. Their material properties — their structure — is different.”
A new set of dummies called THOR has been under development by government agencies since the 1980s. There are no plans for an average female THOR dummy.