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Why Are Crash-test Dummies Becoming Heavier?

Much has been written about how the waistlines of Americans are continuing to get larger and the effect that this phenomenon has had from a public health perspective.

Interestingly enough, there is now a growing body of research suggesting that the negative impact of these rising obesity rates isn’t just limited to health, but also vehicle safety. Specifically, statistics show that people who can be medically classified as obese are actually 78 percent more likely to lose their life in a car accident.

In light of numbers like these and the seemingly unchecked rise of obesity among the American public, Humanetics, the world’s largest producer of crash test dummies, is set to start manufacturing a dummy that it says perhaps better exemplifies the current population: it is slightly taller than past iterations, weighs 273 pounds and has a Body Mass Index of 35.

“We’re still testing with a dummy that was created in the ’80s that weighs 170 pounds. It’s not representative of the population, and obviously it’s a much different load on the system,” said the CEO of Humanetics.

The new obese-style dummy, which will cost roughly the same as a new standard dummy, will hit the market in 2015.

As of the moment, however, it remains somewhat uncertain as to whether vehicle safety groups or the auto industry will make the $500,000 investment in the new obese dummy.

For example, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety indicated that it already uses a family of crash test dummies and, that while it will examine using the dummies at some point in the years ahead, the most important metric remains the structural integrity of a vehicle.

For its part, General Motors indicated that it already has its own set of rigid internal crash test standards in place, which dictate using a dummy weighing 233 pounds in its motor vehicle crash tests.

It’s worth noting that Humanetics is also poised to release a new line of elderly crash-test dummies in 2015 — perhaps to reflect the nation’s rising population of elderly boomer drivers — and is looking at expanding into even more specific subsets, such as obese women or elderly women.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Should use of these types of crash-test dummies be mandated by the federal government?

Source: USA Today, “Like drivers, crash-test dummies are becoming obese,” Lindsay Deutsch and Carly Mallenbaum, Oct. 30, 2014