A Day in the Life of a Crash Test Dummy
July 24, 2013
Do you think you’ve had a hard day at the office? Wait until you hear about mine. As your friendly local crash test dummy, my job is to protect your life and protect your automaker from potential lawsuits. I do this by sitting in a car as it simulates an accident. Again and again and again. Sure, I get to sit all day, but frankly, I’d rather be sitting at a desk doing data entry all day. I mean, check it out. Does this look like fun?
Well, I guess somebody’s got to do it. Car safety ratings are getting better all the time, and it’s thanks to “people” like me. Like all test dummies used in the U.S., I am a Hybrid III. I happen to be a 50th percentile male dummy (my friends call me Fifty) which means I represent an average size 5’10”, 170-pound male. My wife is a 50th percentile woman, and my kids are a 95th percentile male and female. With our varying sizes, we can give auto manufacturers a better idea of how people of different sizes and weights will respond to impact. Our bodies are created to resemble human bodies as closely as possible; we even have spines that are made of stacked discs and rubber pads. We are also equipped with accelerators, motion sensors, and load sensors. The accelerators are placed all over our bodies and measure acceleration rates in all different directions, which helps auto manufacturers make safer adjustments to the vehicle, particularly when it comes to airbags. Load sensors are also placed all over our bodies and measure the force on different areas at the time of impact. Finally, movement sensors are only placed in our chests. They measure how much weight can safely repel off our chests in an impact.
Today, I went through a frontal crash test. (On other days, I might have to do a side crash test.) This means that the car in which I was riding was sent head-first into a solid concrete wall, simulating the effects of two similarly sized cars crashing at 35 mph. First, my researchers covered me in paint, with different colors applied to areas that were most likely to be injured. The wet paint would be left on the car in areas where the impact was particularly powerful. Check it out
After that, all my sensors and accelerators were hooked up, and a ballast and a speed sensor were added to the car. Then my car was drawn down the runway by a pulley before being released directly towards the wall at 35 mph. This only takes about 0.1 seconds, but believe me, it is the longest 0.1 seconds of my life. You know how they say that, when faced with the possibility of death, your life flashes before your eyes? It’s true. Only when you’re a test dummy, it’s an embarrassingly short flash.
Once the crash has happened, researchers examine the wreckage and determine how safe the vehicle actually is. They look at things like seatbelt pretensioners, which tighten up the seatbelts during impact, airbags, and whether the front of the car is crushed. (This is actually a good thing, since it means it absorbs the energy and stops the car before the driver’s seat can be crushed, too.) Once they make this analysis, they can determine whether any further improvements need to be made or if the car has a good safety rating. A manufacturer that allowed a car to leave the factory with obvious safety flaws would be highly susceptible to a defective product or personal injury lawsuit. More importantly, that manufacturer would be putting your life in danger.
So do I like my job? Not really. But then, given the choice, most people would rather spend their days doing something other than work, wouldn’t they? There’s a certain pleasure to my job, knowing that I’m saving people’s lives. After all, cars are getting safer every day, thanks to increased safety awareness and the development of safer seatbelts and airbags. So all in all, I’d say it’s not bad. I mean, after all, it’s nice to know I’m making an impact.
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for his excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”, (an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the State), and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite”.