I-TEAM: Are crash test dummies built with women in mind?

Published: Feb. 26, 2020 at 3:43 PM EST
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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Women are more likely to be injured than men in a crash. Is this by design?

The facts are there. Women are more likely to die in a crash and they are more likely to be injured than men.

But a local trauma surgeon says while the facts are alarming, he's not even sure fixing the crash test dummy problem would be enough to fix these staggering facts, but other experts disagree.

Crash test dummies have long been the auto industry standard. They have a direct impact on how cars are designed. We've all seen the scary video of the faceless dummy said to represent us all in various high impact crashes.

But you may be surprised to learn what a recent consumer report investigation uncovered. There is no current crash test dummy that represents the average woman despite women making up half of all drivers and half of the population.

A female driver and front right seat passenger wearing their seatbelt are still 17 percent more likely to be killed than a male of the same age.

Even more staggering is a 2019 study says a seatbelt-wearing woman is 73 percent more likely to be injured in frontal accident than a male.

We took these findings to Dr. Terence O'Keeffe, chief of trauma at Augusta University.

“It is clearly a problem that females are more likely to be injured than males, it is clearly a problem we don't have the appropriate crash test dummies, but there is still such a huge opportunity that we have to try to get people on board with injury prevention,” O'Keeffe said.

O'Keeffe took issue with the fundamental finding of the report that by changing the current female crash test dummy would definitely save more female lives behind the wheel.

For perspective, the I-Team found the female crash test dummy used is 4 foot 10 inches and 108 pounds, which represented 5 percent of the female population in the 1970’s.

“I politefully, as a trauma surgeon, disagree with that,” O'Keeffe said.

“I don't think the added benefit would be that much more important than to get people to wear their seatbelts, wear their seatbelts appropriately, not drive drunk, not text on their phones,” O'Keeffe said.

The Auto Alliance, A US automaker trade group also pushed back on the Consumer Report findings, saying the current average female is closer in size to the male crash test dummy already in use.

The CDC weighed in, finding since women are shorter and lighter than men, they often sit closer to the steering wheel or wear their seatbelts differently from males, and none of this makes up for the biological difference between the male and female body. For instance, the male neck is stronger than a females, meaning it can handle impact crashes better.

O’Keeffe came to the US to practice trauma from Great Britain. He says the United Kingdom has far fewer fatal crashes than the US, and it's not because their crash test dummies are different. He credits the country's push for safety over getting somewhere fast.

“No one wants to hear this but if you drop the speed limit down to down to 55 mph on all the freeways like we did in the 70’s when we had the oil crisis, we would have a lot less people dying in car crashes,” O’Keeffe said.

O’Keeffe says obesity is a big problem in our country, so if we modify the female crash test dummy, we would also likely need to increase the size of the male dummy.

Regardless, it’s a study that has people talking and considering if changes are warranted.

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