Have crash tests ever used live (or dead) human occupants?

Human Crash Test Dummies

They're highly advanced, but these dummies can't react to an approaching collision. A human crash test dummy can often provide better results.
They're highly advanced, but these dummies can't react to an approaching collision. A human crash test dummy can often provide better results.
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With all the sensors and technology built into a crash test dummy, why would a human occupant yield better crash test data? Crash test dummies are very good about showing how much force impacts a body during an accident. What they can't do is show how much force a human body can reasonably expect to take without getting injured. If actual humans weren't crash test dummies, scientists wouldn't have data to judge the forces in a crash as safe or unsafe.

There are also a few things crash test dummies can't do. Namely, they can't react to the impending collision. When people are in a crash, they instinctively tense their muscles. That's something a dummy can't do, and it's something that could also lead to injury during an accident. Crash test dummies also don't have skin -- and many of the injuries in an accident are cuts and abrasions.

That's where human crash test dummies come in. Human cadavers were first used in crash tests long before crash test dummies were invented. Occasionally, cadavers are still used today, although most automakers and research institutions don't like to talk about it. It's a lot more fun to talk about living human crash test dummies.

While uncommon, these volunteers participate in slow speed crash tests to provide invaluable data to crash investigators and engineers. Still, these tests aren't without problems. For one, constantly experiencing car crashes, even slow ones, takes a toll on a person. There are also ethical considerations: The quest for data can overshadow the need for safety. Though the crash tests are very controlled, and every precaution is taken, there is always the risk of severe injury or even death for the human tester.

So the next time you crash after a hard day's work, be thankful it's only an expression. For some people, crashing is part of the job. For more information about crash testing, automotive safety features and other related topics, follow the links below.


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More Great Links


  • BBC News. "How The Dead Have Helped the Living." September 23, 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/car_crash/48062.stm
  • Drury, Bob. "Meet the Human Crash Test Dummy." Men's Health. http://www.menshealth.com/cda/article.do?site=MensHealth&channel =guy.wisdom&category=howto.guides&conitem= ce5a99edbbbd201099edbbbd2010cfe793cd____
  • Harley, Michael. "Ghastly! Saab may have used human cadavers for safety research." Autoblog. May 8, 2008. http://www.autoblog.com/2008/05/08/ghastly-saab-may-have-used -human-cadavers-for-safety-research/
  • Left Lane News. "Report: GM/Saab used human cadavers for crash tests." May 8, 2008. http://www.leftlanenews.com/report-gm-saab-used-human-cadavers-for-crash-tests.html
  • Roach, Mary. "I was a human crash test dummy." Salon.com. November 19, 1999. http://www.salon.com/health/col/roac/1999/11/19/crash_test/
  • Rupp, Jonathan. "Development of the MAMA-2B Pregnant Crash Test Dummy." University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. March 31, 2000. http://www.umtri.umich.edu/project.php?wipID=81