Talk about breaking through the glass ceiling. Or, in this case, breaking through the windshield of a car in a crash test. After a half-century of debate on the topic, government regulators for the first time last year made female crash-test dummies a mandatory aspect of crash evaluations. Safety advocates have argued for years that designing cars to be crash-safe based solely on the anatomy of male occupants posed risks for smaller female occupants. Yet for decades automakers continued to use only dummies modeled after the average American male.
Smaller women are three times as likely as an average-sized male driver to be seriously injured in an accident, according to a recent opinion piece in Automotive News by Lee Jared Vinsel, assistant professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Vinsel notes that front airbags are designed to strike occupants in the chest when they deploy, but smaller individuals can be hit in the chin instead, resulting in head and neck injuries.
Meanwhile, automakers have maintained that the average-sized test dummy is applicable to 95 percent of the driving population, and that the development of a smaller dummy would be too time-consuming and costly. Under the new requirements, car companies must use small female crash dummies in front collision evaluations for 2011 model-year vehicles and beyond. Vinsel says the long-overdue introduction of female-proportioned dummies “is the product of a long-held cultural resistance to considering gender differences in design.”