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The Evolution of Crash Testing

Published on: 15 June 2015

To ensure that they are as safe as possible in the event of a collision, there is a lot of research and work that goes into the science and technology of the development of vehicular safety features. In order for vehicle manufacturers to understand what is required of their vehicles from a safety perspective, they need to not only understand what happens to a vehicle in the event of a collision, but the effects on the human body too. This is why crash testing is a crucial part of vehicle design and development.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of crash testing, and how it has helped to lower the incidences of injuries and fatalities on the roads:  

Cadaver Testing:

In the 1930s, there was not enough reliable data on how the human body responds to a strong impact. Biomechanics was still in its infancy and so researchers at Detroit’s Wayne State University took it upon themselves to begin researching the effects of collisions on the human body. Human cadavers were the first point of call as a logical test subject, allowing researchers to observe the effects of impact in various types of accident scenarios.

Touted as providing significant value in saving countless human lives, the cadaver research became out-of-date due to many unresolved problems. The first problem was that there were ethical and moral issues related to the use of the deceased. Secondly, many of the victims were middle-aged white males, removing the availability of effective comparison data across demographics. Naturally, it was not easy to obtain child cadavers, nor was there a ready stream of available male and female cadavers across all age and race demographics.

This then led to:

Volunteer Testing:

Scientists involved in crash testing were so passionate about their work that they offered themselves as crash test subjects. This type of testing was not too successful, as there were strict limits on the impacts that could be sustained by live subjects without causing them grievous bodily harm.

Animal Testing:

From the mid-1950s to 1993, live animals were used as crash test subjects. Although met with public outrage from animal rights activists, this type of testing was widely accepted in the scientific community due to its promising accuracy of data collection. Pigs were the most commonly used animals in crash testing due to their internal structure being very similar to that of a human being’s. Despite the animal testing data being the most accurate thus far, and the animals being put under anaesthesia during the processes, animal rights groups were vehement in their protests. This ethical unease, coupled with the fact that animals are not identical in makeup to humans, led to animal crash testing being fully ceased by the end of 1993.

Crash Test Dummies

Early cadaver research lead to the invention of the crash test dummy. ‘Sierra Sam,’ as he was known, was created by Samuel. W Alderson in 1949 and was successfully used in crash tests; providing researchers with interesting information pertaining to collision safety and its impact on the human body.

Over the years, with many prominent leaps and bounds in crash testing science, crash test dummies have become significantly advanced. Made up of an intricate system that emulates functions in the human body, and the reactions of bones, muscles and limbs, the crash test dummies of late are robotic hybrids that are able to comprehensively demonstrate the impact of various types of collisions on the human body. Some of these hybrid dummies will be composed of anatomically-correct vertebra, bones and ligaments, with specialised sensors placed throughout the body for extremely accurate data readings in various collision scenarios. In order to encourage even more accurate data collection, today’s dummies are categorised into the following groups:

  • SID (Side Impact Dummy): designed to measure the effects of a side impact on the body’s ribs, spines and internal organs; including compression of the spine and rib cavity.
  • BioRID: designed to determine the effects of a rear impact on the head and spine, thus helping to improve body and head restraint technology.
  • CRABI: a child dummy evaluating the effectiveness of child restraints and the safety of air bags. There are models emulating 6 month, 12 month, and 18 month old children.

It is thanks to the innovations in crash testing that we can drive motor vehicles with advanced safety features, designed to offer drivers the optimum protection against injury in the event of an accident. To do your part in ensuring both you and your family’s safety, purchase a vehicle with good safety features, have a solid car insurance policy in place and make sure that you always follow the road rules to prevent the unfortunate event of a collision. 

To find out more about the latest innovations in car safety, click here.