Something about strapping pigs into ejection seats for safety tests just didn’t sit right. The cruelty, the mess, the smell, the absurdity of soaring swine—none of it was ideal. But the bigger problem was that the porcine experiments couldn’t capture the way a seated human body reacts to a crash. Cadavers and even live humans were also tested, but human bodies couldn’t provide the reproducible, scientific data the government wanted. This led to the creation of anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), better known as crash-test dummies. If you’ve ever walked away from a car accident, you probably owe an ATD a thank-you note.
This story originally appeared in Volume 9 of Road & Track.
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Physicist Samuel Alderson is credited with creating the first crash dummy, dubbed Sierra Sam, in 1949. Along with similar military ATDs, the Sierra Engineering Company’s dummy helped defense contractors develop safer aviation helmets, harnesses, and ejection seats. But as motor-vehicle fatalities climbed, Alderson saw an opportunity. Working with Ford and General Motors, he developed the first purpose-built automotive ATD, called VIP-50. Sierra Stan, pictured here, was Sierra Engineering’s competitive answer to the VIP-50.
Hybrid I and II
Sierra Stan and VIP-50 might have been tailored for automotive testing, but GM wasn’t satisfied. Safety was becoming more important to car buyers, yet the world’s largest automaker still couldn’t find a dummy that produced consistent results. Weights and sizes varied not just among designs but within models. GM engineers solved this in 1971 with Hybrid I. Combining bits from Sierra Stan and VIP-50, Hybrid I was more accurate than previous dummies and designed for mass production. Hybrid II, shown here, added a sophisticated articulating neck and a more bio-accurate joint design. After GM released the design to competitors, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that all automotive restraint systems be tested with Hybrid II dummies.
Developed by General Motors in 1976 and continuously refined by ATD giant Humanetics since, Hybrid III is still the primary dummy used in frontal crash tests. It is distinguished from Hybrid II primarily by its more advanced neck design, which better simulates human head movements. Hybrid III comes in a wider variety of sizes than any previous ATD. A 50th-percentile male is pictured here.
Female And Child-Size Dummies
When it came time to cast its public-service spots to encourage seatbelt use in the Eighties, the U.S. Department of Transportation chose two adult male dummies, Vince and Larry. Fitting: For much of their history, ATDs were patterned after average-size men. There have been, over the years, some female ATDs, typically representing diminutive women, including a companion to the VIP- 50. In 1970, Sierra Stan gained a smaller sister, Sierra Susie, shown at right looking a bit bedraggled with her new-wave hair. And weighing in at 108 pounds and standing just four feet eight is the 5th-percentile female Hybrid III, pictured below. Yet in the 52 years since Susie’s debut, no major manufacturer has produced an ATD representing an average-size woman for use in NHTSA crash tests. That’s despite research showing that women are more likely than men to be injured or killed in crashes of equal severity.And for decades, improvements in vehicle safety-focused primarily on adults. It wasn’t until the mid-Eighties that states began imposing car-seat requirements for children. Along with the growing availability of airbags, the increased use of car seats led NHTSA to seek out a dummy to test restraint systems for infants. Enter the Child Restraint/Air Bag Interaction (CRABI) dummy in 1991. Its most common variant, pictured below, is a 22-pound ATD with an anatomically correct spine and neck representing the average 12-month- old baby. This sophisticated ATD helped regulators better understand the importance of proper restraint systems, inspiring the LATCH standard and the guidance that car seats should never be installed in front of an airbag.
ATDs Courtesy of Transportation Research Center And Humanetics.