Why is it still necessary to crash test vehicles?

Buckle Up, Dummy

Crash test dummies replicate passengers ranging from pregnant women to infants.
Crash test dummies replicate passengers ranging from pregnant women to infants.
Louie Psihoyos/Getty Images

It's impossible to put a number on the lives that have been saved a because of crash testing. What we do know is that when new safety technology, like airbags, has been introduced, there is almost always a corresponding dip in vehicular deaths. Think of the simple things you do when you drive, like buckling your seatbelt. Odds are that you buckle up because you know the seatbelt keeps you safe -- and you know the seatbelt keeps you safe because of crash testing.

Crash testing continues to advance and respond to automotive buying trends. As more people bought SUVs, crash testing focused on finding ways to lessen the risk of rollover and methods of strengthening the roof in case a rollover did occur. Crash testing also focused on exactly what causes an SUV to roll over, so buyers could be educated on preventing those types of crashes. As more Americans have chosen smaller cars, crash testing has begun to focus on improving safety cages and crumple zones in this group of vehicles. Some car companies even have crash testing that focuses on pedestrian safety.

Crash testing is also beginning to focus on keeping more types of people safe. Initially, all crash test dummies were the same size, shape and weight, but scientists have realized that people of different sizes -- men, women and children -- are susceptible to different injuries in crashes. As a result, dummy technology is dramatically improving. Dummies now come in all shapes and sizes, too. Researchers have even developed a pregnant crash test dummy. Dummies are also becoming more lifelike and more capable of effectively mimicking human physiology, which will give researchers more data to develop systems that protect actual humans.

There will always be some risk in car travel. Crash testing helps develop safety systems and inform consumers, which takes some of that risk away. While smashing cars into walls or each other may seem wasteful, the data these tests yield is invaluable. In the 1980s the slogan was, "You could learn a lot from a dummy." As it turns out, that's very true.

For more information about crash testing, automotive safety devices and other related topics, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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
  • U.S. News. "2008 Smart fortwo Safety Review." August 4, 2008. http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/2008-Smart-ForTwo/Safety/