The smartly-built crash test dummies of today

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crash test dummy

"Excuse me? You want me to do WHAT?" Image: Lens Artwork/Flickr/CC BY-ND

In an effort to keep motorists safe, GM’s crash testing lab uses the most advanced “anthropomorphic test devices,” or crash test dummies, available. Meanwhile, it is testing the next generation of dummies, designed to mimic human bodies in the most deadly of situations.

‘Anthropomorphic test devices,’ a.k.a., crash test dummies

According to a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic deaths rose by 9 percent on the nation’s highways during the first half of 2012. Whatever the reason for that recent increase, highway deaths were on the decline in years prior.  At the end of 2011, they were at the lowest point since the record began in 1949.

Much of the reason for the long-running trend is that modern automobiles are designed with increasingly sophisticated safety devices. Cars in Spokane, New York, and everywhere in between, are simply safer than they once were. And that is thanks to data learned from crash test dummies — or, as they are known in the industry, “anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs).”

The GM crash test lab

In a CBS This Morning segment that aired Oct. 3, reporter Mark Stassmann talked to Jack Jensen, who runs the crash test lab for GM, just outside of Detroit.

Jensen and his 12 employees spend their days building high-tech ATDs, crashing them and them putting them back together for more crashes. The lab employees about 170 dummies of various sizes and weights, worth a cool $20 million all together. They perform more than 350 frontal collision and more than 100 rollover crash tests each year. All told, the facility conducts about 10,000 crash tests of various kinds annually.

Jensen demonstrated the high-tech ATDs being used today. They have ribs made of steel and are also filled with electronics to give researchers vital and specific information on the trauma created by traffic accidents. In fact, the latest models have sensors with the ability to record up to 2 million data points per second.

Next generation dummy

Meanwhile, the next generation of ATD is being developed at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. The new dummies, called BioRID ATDs, are designed especially to test the impact of collisions on backseat passengers. These new dummies have spinal columns with 24 simulated vertebrae that allow  them to sit up naturally and to bend the way a person does in a rear-end collision.

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Before the new generation of dummies can be put to work, however, it has to be proven that they can accurately and consistently replicate the trauma suffered by human beings in car crashes. To that effort, Barbara Bunn, a GM engineer, developed a series of tests to test the test dummies.

GM’s general director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness, Gay Kent, praised Bunn’s efforts:

“The test matrix Barb developed will be helpful to the industry for determining BioRID’s future, and demonstrates GM’s commitment to advancing crash-test dummy technology and procedures for evaluating vehicle safety.”

In May, the United States Council for Automotive Research commended Bunn for her work on the test matrix.

Safety comes first

In spite of all these efforts to reduce risks on the road, safety still remains in the hands of the individual motorist. According to Julie Kleinert, a technician at the Michigan test lab, 3 out of 4 child car seats are not secured properly in vehicles.


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