Tuesday, 17 May, 2016
crash test dummies

A Fascinating Look at How Human Cadavers Make Our Cars Safer

It’s The Walking Dead but with a twist: these cadavers are doing more than wandering about aimlessly, they’re driving! Driving test crash vehicles, that is. While we’ve all seen test car-crash footage featuring a violently jostled dummy, many of us don’t realize that the large majority of vehicular collision safety statistics have actually been pulled from human cadavers.

History of the Driving Dead

The fourth leading cause of death is accidents and in attempts to make vehicular transportation safer, large amounts of time, money, and research have gone into testing and analyzing car crashes. Cadavers have commonly been used in automobile testing and safety ratings since the 1930s.

Running into Problems

The auto industry learned quickly that using cadavers in car-crash testing posed several unique problems. First off, as the New York Times eloquently put it, cadavers “lacked the durability required for repeated trials.” Second, cadavers come in an array of shapes, sizes, and conditions, giving varied and unreliable results. And finally, they respond much differently in a crash simulation, as would a living human. While claims surfaced as recently as 2008 that automobile companies were still using cadavers, this is now a very rare practice and dummies have replaced most cadaver testing.

Possible Alternatives

Researchers began experimenting with alternatives to human cadavers to address these problems and in 1966 the first dummy was created. It weighed 170 pounds with a hinged pelvis and elbows so it could sit behind the wheel just like a person would. Over the next few decades, companies continued perfecting the test dummy to accurately portray a human body exposed to the conditions of a car crash, eventually giving way to the modern version used still to this day.

While cadavers are rarely used anymore, with most auto companies opting instead for dummies or digital simulations, it is believed that human bodies are, on occasion, still used to gain critical information that only cadavers can give. Cadaver testing has even begun to leave the arena of car-crash testing and is supposedly used for researching ways to prevent concussions in the NFL.

Finding the Answers

While the thought of using human bodies as dummies may seem gruesome and morbid, we have much to thank those early test subjects for. We’ve gained tons of statistical data without any risk to human life.

Driving Dummies

The auto industry is constantly improving every model it puts on the road to deliver the most reliable and safe vehicles possible. Without the use of cadavers as research, we would likely be far behind the modern advances and safety regulations we are at today. So while some might find the use of human bodies offensive, we have high safety ratings because of their use.