Crash Test Dummies, Safety Features, and How Gender Influences Car Accident Risk

Have you ever seen a picture of a crash test dummy? Crash test dummies, full-scale replicas of the human body that gauge how our bodies respond to trauma, don’t look much like your everyday human. They are often bright yellow, with exposed necks, designs on the sides of their skulls, and wires to capture information. But while they might not look very human, crash test dummies are actually based on a very specific human measurement. At 5-feet-9-inches tall and 175 pounds, they reflect the size of the average male.

This raises a potentially alarming question. If male-centric crash test dummies are used to safely design cars, what does this mean for female drivers?

A Brief History

Crash test dummies have been in use since the middle of the 20th century. Prior to that, cadavers, animals, and even live volunteers were used for safety tests. Today, dummies test how the human body reacts to car accidents. They show how our bodies respond to  dangerous conditions, like a vehicle slamming into a wall. This helps manufacturers address any issues or flaws, and allows them to make the safest possible vehicles.

The dummy used today was developed in the 1970s. Its 5-feet-9 inches and 175 pound build is actually about 27 pounds lighter than the average American man of today. There is a female dummy, built in 2003 by the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, the female dummy is 4-feet-11-inches tall, and 108 pounds. This reflects only about 5% of the actual female population.

Do Safety Designs Forget About Women?

Since the common crash test dummy reflects the measurements of the average man, vehicles might not fully protect women. The design and placement of safety features, like airbags, antilock brake systems, and head restraints may cater more to the male body. If this is the case, they could fail to protect—or even further harm—a female driver or passenger. Additionally, safety features might not account for the different driving behavior of women, like sitting closer to the steering wheel.

Based on accident statistics, it might not seem like such a bad thing that car safety potentially caters toward men. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number of male deaths in car accidents is double the number of female deaths. 26,380 men were involved in fatal car accidents in 2017, in comparison to 10,679 women. Men tender to display riskier driving behavior than woman, like speeding or road rage, and the average man drives about 30% more miles than women. Since they are on the roads more than women, men are naturally involved in more car accidents.

Accident Risk for Women

However, women have a higher injury risks in a car accident. According to NHTSA, when compared to men, women are:

  • 22.1% more likely to sustain a head injury
  • 44.7% more likely to sustain a neck injury
  • 26.4% more likely to sustain a chest injury
  • 58.2% more likely to sustain an arm injury
  • 38.5% more likely to sustain an abdominal injury
  • 97. 7% more likely to sustain a leg injury

The high injury risk can’t be blamed on male-centric crash test dummies alone. But if you’re a driver who isn’t exactly 5-feet-9-inches and 175 pounds, these facts about crash test dummies and vehicle safety are worth keeping in mind. It’s just another reminder why you should always do your part to keep the roads safe for everyone—no matter their height!


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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