A “Great Stupid” Classic! Addressing Crash Dummy Employment Discrimination

Res ipsa loquitur.

The scary thing: nobody laughed.

36 thoughts on “A “Great Stupid” Classic! Addressing Crash Dummy Employment Discrimination

  1. Is there some reason why female crash dummies are equitable? Is there some gap in the differences between how men are damaged in wrecks versus women?

    I don’t get this. At all.

  2. In an attempt to give her the highest possible benefit of the doubt, which means my giving some level of defense to (wince) Pete Buttigieg…

    In similar severity accidents, women are more severely injured (~70%) or killed (~15%) than men. One argument for this is that vehicle safety systems are designed around the height and weight of the crash test dummies, which are the size of the average man sixty years ago. Another argument for this is that women have major physical differences as compared to men, especially with different internal organs and musculature, but also less obviously in the spine and neck as well as other physical features.

    I am not opposed to making crash test dummies more representative of the people they are supposed to be if we are focusing on the actual safety of car safety systems. But when we talk about this, we should also talk about how men get into more and higher severity crashes because they are more likely to take riskier behavior and drive more each year than women as a whole. There is also the fact that women, on average, drive lighter cars than men, and some proponents of car safety changes believe that heavier vehicles may provide greater injury protection in similar crashes.

    This truly is a “Do Something” situation, though I’m not sure how momentous it actually is. Also, the response provided by this woman is a #5 on the scale, so not as bad it initially sounds.

    It is still not what I would prefer the government to spend my tax dollars on.

    • Sarah,

      A perspective I had not considered. Rep. DeLauro’s real error here was to frame the issue as a gender-equity problem. That sounds completely stupid, but is actually kind of smart (and sinister) on her part. To highlight the problem as you did – women are different from men – would drive something of a proverbial stake into the whole trans-gender issue. So the Congresswoman avoided that whole line thought – with the requisite implications – and went with the mind-bendingly ridiculous notion of gender equity with crash test dummies.


    • Thank you for this depth of information, Sarah.
      Those very concerns were what immediately sprang to mind upon reading the above piece.
      There are certainly far more frivolous things upon which our tax dollars are being spent, so I’m okay with that aspect.
      One thing continues to concern me, however. The fact that we haven’t updated the size of the average adult male from what it was 60 years ago seems equally problematic – especially when considered in concert with the comment below listing the accident statistics for men.
      Thanks again for your well-informed & well-considered response to the original piece.

    • Well also—crash dummies are not made of flesh and bone, or anything vaguely like it. They don’t vary in height or weight. They don’t have internal organs. I cannot imagine what useful information would be gleaned from “female” crash dummies, which, I guess, would mean they would have wider hips and mounds in their chest area?

      I admire your willingness to try to find a rationale here.

      • …they DO vary in height and weight. They have baby test dummies, small children etc.

        I assume since women weigh less, are generally shorter, etc that this is a way to make sure that general female physiology is represented in the testing.

        They also have internal sensors and I assume the location of these sensors would vary by sex as well.

        • I’d love to know if that’s the case.

          As for height and weight, that makes sense, of course. Good. I still don’t see how gender differences in the dummies could make any difference that could be measured with precision.

          I struck the erroneous statement about height and weight. Thanks.

          • I do not know if they are going to do this, or if they just want to make it LOOK vaguely feminine, but I expect that making different break points on dummies to account for more fragile bones in certain places or wider hips and chests that then can show when damage in those areas would differ from a male dummy would be a fun problem for some mechanical engineers. Truly, I bet that you could make a really good set of dummies that could be more or less physiologically accurate for a wide variety of ages, both sexes, and even physical conditions if you wanted to spend the money on them, which they seem to.

            • Don’t you find that unlikely? That would require doing every crash test far more times to see results on the wide range of heights and weights—each time wrecking a car and a dummy. The increase in costs would be astronomical.

              • I would suspect that crash tests on the wide range might be used mainly for developing new technologies and might not always crash a car, but a simulated one. I have seen some crash tests that seem to use a simulated environment that may destroy the dummies, but not an actual car.

                Again, I think you could probably do this intelligently, with results that might (see my comment on this being a #5) get results if you were so inclined. I doubt they are.

              • When seatbelts were introduced a few decades ago, people complained about the cost and inconvenience. Companies didn’t want to invest in the technology. After being forced to invest, total deaths are now lower than they were in the 60’s with twice the population.

                Even since 2010, automobile accidents have dropped by about 40/million thanks to expensive research into automobile safety (I believe this was when traction control or anti-lock brakes became standard). That is about 12,000 people a year who are still living and breathing.

                So yes, crashing testing may cost a few $100K or $1M more per car model. But for instance, 300,000 Toyota Camrys are sold each year for $20K. That is $6 Billion in sales for just the Camry line. Even $5 million more to crash a few extra cars and dummies of additional size and weight distributions is just 0.1%.

                Automobile safety research tangibly saves lives. Using additional dummies foreseeably allows new injury patterns to be observed, and design adjustments to mitigate those injuries. Safety research and engineering has proven effective at protecting life. Safer cars ultimately sell better, making sound business sense.

            • I suspect engineers have considered the physical differences between men and women, and have probably come up with an average test dummy for the purposes of measuring, gauging, and designing motor vehicles. I would think engineers design for the average, foreseeable accident (head on collisions at posted speed limits, for instance) and not the extreme (head on collisions at twice the posted speed limits). Otherwise, they would be designing more maneuverable and gas-efficient tanks.

              As Jack and a few commenters have pointed out, the Congresswoman said “gender inequity among vehicle safety and crash victims.” What does that even mean? Do we want women to be injured just as much and as often as men? Are women not injured enough and to the same extent as men? By phrasing it that, it makes her sound . . . well . . . nuts.


          • Well height and weight are important aspects in developing car safety features.

            Women and men are on average, different in height and weight.

            So that’s the reasoning.

            • “Women and men are on average, different in height and weight.” That’s meaningless. What’s the difference between a 5’8″ female and the same size male who weighs 160 pounds? The average is useless except for generalities. For every height and weight, there are both men and woman of a wide range of ages who have the same characteristics.

              • Jack, one of the big things is where/how women carry weight as well as our bones are structured to handle things differently. This changes the way bodies move in many aspects.

                For an identical height and weight, men will have more muscle and women more fat. Women tend to carry fat and muscle in very different places than men do. Again, bone structure is very different. All of these do factor into how safety devices may or may not work for large swaths of the population.

                Honestly I’m with you that this is not a great plan, but there are experts who think it will help and have decent reason to believe the physical differences in the sexes cause issues in the design of safety systems that can be remedied by better designed dummies. Jim Hodgson has an idea that matches my opinion on the subject, to be honest, but I don’t think that this idea is necessarily worthy of scorn, but instead could be better approached with serious debate.

                • Do you really think anyone is seriously proposing dummies that will reflect the variations you’re describing? Or that such a plan could ever happen? It reeks of grandstanding to me.

                  • Oh, it is grandstanding, absolutely! My bias definitively states that anything with both equity and Democrats involved is nothing other than idiots trying to sound smart and to buy votes.

                    However, the idea has some merit on its own and a principled person could use it to do good things, maybe.

                    I will point out, again, that I’m not actually for the idea. I believe that computer modeling would be a far superior alternative with crash dummies (male, female, child, or otherwise) used in limited scenarios where the models require more data or consistency checks. I just think that we should give it full thought before shooting it down and not dismiss it offhand just because she is grandstanding. Even though a messenger is a self-serving, unethical worm doesn’t mean the idea they propose is ipso facto bad. See Donald Trump and his crusade to handle the illegal immigration problem as we all saw him prior to the 2016 election.

                  • “ Do you really think anyone is seriously proposing dummies that will reflect the variations you’re describing? ”


    • Sarah, I would just like to address the idea women are not risk takers when it comes to driving. I am constantly amazed to see how many youngish (thirtysomething and down) women drivers blow past me on the Interstate. Additionally, our daughter (now almost 50) has always driven fast, usually well above the speed limit. I’d almost suspect it’s women’s aversion to physics that makes them more cavalier in their speed choices.

      • Other Bill,

        I do not mean that ALL women are not risk takers and that ALL men are. My mom is WAY more of a risk taker than my dad. However, on a population level, men engage in riskier behavior than women. Drill down to specifics and all generalities fall apart. However insurances charge people based on population level statistics and they (and the statistics themselves) show that men, generally speaking, demonstrate risky taking behavior in cars at a statistically significantly higher rate than women.

  3. When I saw the headline, i thought that someone was whining about not enough black crash dummies,,,
    Next thing you know, some democrat, probably from CA, will be demanding trans representation…

  4. I would like to echo Sarah B’s comment on the difference in the effect of automobile crashes on different human body types. Placed in the context of our current “great-stupid” equity requirements, the above statement sounds ridiculous. However, different sized humans are impacted (no pun intended) differently during automobile crashes. Also, vehicle safety designs tend to be fitted to a standard model: the average male. Seat belts, air bags, the padding on dashes and seat backs may lessen the impact on a male body, but the concern was always on the impact to women and children who may not fit the standard models. I have copied the link to the various test-dummies. If you look at the variation it becomes obvious just how different the average is when accounting for women, men and children.

    • Now that I’ve actually checked your link (I hadn’t when I wrote my earlier ignorant comment), I’m really confused. The real deficiency in the dummies isn’t on the female side—most women would be included in the 5’9″-4’11 adult range. My wife would. My sister would. My mother would.

      But I wouldn’t: I’m 6′ tall. It looks like men are the ones being poorly served by the dummy design..men, and the obese, who make up a large segment of the population. Why the focus on female dummies?

  5. Jack,

    Something to consider:

    More women die in car accidents than men (“especially susceptible to neck and abdominal injuries” – Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and some research suggests part of the reason has to do with limited data on female body types. Women, on average, weigh less than men and have different body mass proportions, all of which factor heavily in how the body moves/reacts during an impact. For years, the majority of dummies used for testing purposes were designed to average male specifications, suggesting a possible bias in the results.

    Just because something sounds silly, doesn’t mean it IS silly, especially when it’s in pursuit of legitimate research. No question is too silly, that’s how science works.

    Hope you’re well!

  6. Actually, almost 3x men die in accident and more are injured (although a lot closer). I would think we should spend more on differentiating the men dummies, which could save more lives in total, and am sure, women. By focusing on just adding women dummies, we’re not impacting the Male drivers as much but could reduce female injuries and deaths (maybe).

    But, I would think adding another layer of dummies (Female, Handicap, additional weight/height class, more pressure points, etc.) could always be a net positive.

    However, irrelevant of the data or assumptions I can make, I think the main point of this article is how everything has to be framed around race and gender. Just saving lives is not enough? “adding female dummies could help save lives!!!” It’s the narrative that is annoying to listen to.

    • You are making an assumption that crash measures that help address female-specific injuries would no benefit men in any way. I think that assumption is unfounded. If women suffer proportiately more neck injuries, changing the crash dynamics could significantly reduce both female and male neck injuries. The safety foreseeably benefit everyone by studying crash impacts on a wider range of bodies.

  7. I would have thought that by now, enough crash test data could have been compiled and analyzed to allow accurate computer modeling over a wide range of variables and eliminate the need for a platoon of crash test dummies for each vehicle type and crash scenario, enacted over and over. Originally developed for testing aircraft ejection seats in 1949, crash test dummies for car crashes have been used since the 60s; there have been “female” and “child” dummies since the 1970s. Vehicle structural dynamics is a well-developed engineering field and you can get degrees in that area from several big engineering schools. I’m a bit surprised that something so relatively primitive is still a viable testing mechanism.

  8. This is a serious safety issue. Obviously the “gender” of a dummy is irrelevant, however, the characteristics modeled, and the ability of vehicle safety measures to protect what the dummy models does.

    Crash dummies historically mimicked larger male bodies. Vehicles designed to protect the male dummy were not necessarily designed for to equally protect the average smaller female body; not out of malice, but ignorance. This makes women significantly more at risk of injury during an accident.

    Lots of things influence crash safety. For instance, seatbelts might cross the strongest part of the average male sternum, but cross a more vulnerable portion of someone smaller. Airbags might be more like to hit a women in the face. Even the physics of a smaller body might cause various safety features or impact attenuation measures to perform differently than on the average male body.

    Vehicles are so tightly engineered these days, that it is absurd that testing against the average female body has lagged so long.

    What is interesting is that by even broaching this issue, one tacitly admits there are different physical characteristics of male and female bodies.

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