For women, the consequences of a car crash are often far deadlier than for men.
According to Verity Now, a US-based campaign group striving to achieve equity in vehicle safety, women are 73% more likely to be injured – and 17% more likely to die – in a vehicle crash. Earlier this year, a study of 70,000 patients who had been trapped in vehicles found that women were more frequently trapped than men.
Part of the problem is that test dummies modeled on the average female body are rarely used in safety tests by car manufacturers – because only “male” dummies are mandated for tests by regulators.
Astrid Linder, a Swedish engineer and research director of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, is determined to fix this.
Working with a team of engineers, Linder has created a “female” crash dummy and is using it to test women’s safety in low-severity rear-impact collisions.
Linder recently spoke to CNN about her project and how current laws are preventing gender equality when it comes to vehicle safety.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: You’ve developed the first ever female crash test dummy. What inspired you?
Astrid Linder: To assess the safety of new cars, you need representation from both parts of the population. We see from statistics that men and women are at different risks from different types of crashes. The aim of the prototype dummy is to show that we can make models of the female population in the same way as we have, for a long time, made models of the male population.
CNN: In what ways are women at greater risk than men?
Linder: Different types of injuries are more common for females than males. Females have more injuries to the spine and to the hips, which makes perfect sense because, females have broader hips, wider pelvises, and they sit closer to the steering wheel to get to the steering wheel and to the pedals.
CNN: How has the female crash test dummy been designed, and how is technology used to test safety?
Linder: We designed the shape from data available from the University of Michigan’s humanshape.org. They measured and compiled a lot of individuals and made this database of body shapes. We create the models in the computer, and we test them using virtual simulation software where we run hundreds of different simulation crashes and if we think “this concept can work” we go to the workshop to test some physical models.
CNN: And how are the physical dummies used to test car safety?
Linder: We took data for the average male and the average female, including weight and height, for the crash test dummy. This project is specifically for low-severity rear impact crashes. We use these prototypes when assessing the vehicle seats by putting the seat on a sled and then pushing it with a certain acceleration. We measure the acceleration and use sensors to follow the motion of the head and the torso and see what happens to the neck.
CNN: Why do you think female crash-test models haven’t been used before?
Linder: In the EU, regulatory frameworks state that in the assessment of safety, you should use a model of an average male. In the US, the Hybrid-III 5F female dummy is approved for tests but it reflects only the 5th percentile of American women. It’s lighter than an average 12-year-old girl and is not used in the driver’s seat for crash tests, only in the passenger seats. Car manufacturers ensure that they perform according to the standard. We have to have a regulation that goes hand in hand with society. We expect women and men to use the transport system and so on, so both parts of the population should be represented in the assessment of car safety.
CNN: How do you think your research can change things?
Linder: The prototype dummy is to show that we have the data to make an average female in the same way as we have, for a long time, made models of the average male. Our hope is the project will be u sed widely by the community and that we, in the near future, will have a situation where the safety of vehicles will be assessed equally for both parts of the population. But it has to start with the regulation. When you close that gap, then there will be momentum to move forward.