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Car Crash Safety Testing: It’s Not Just for Dummies

If you are considering purchasing a new car, the car’s safety rating may be a deciding factor. After all, you want your car to provide the best possible protection in the event of an Atlanta auto accident. But, do you know what safety ratings actually measure? Atlanta car accident attorney Shane Smith explains.

Each year, a little over 50 new car models undergo National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) car crash safety testing under the New Car Assessment Program. Cars are tested to see how well they protect their occupants in front impact and side impact crashes. The brave occupants that gather this information are Hybrid III Biofidelic Anthropomorphic Test Devices, or crash test dummies.

Crash test dummies are more than plastic dolls. They are built from materials that imitate human tissue. For example, the spine of a crash test dummy is made to approximate a human spine; metal discs alternate with rubber pads to provide a flexible, yet rigid backbone much like the human spine.

Crash test dummies come in a variety of sizes; the one most commonly used in NHTSA crash testing is known as the fiftieth-percentile male dummy. At 170 lbs (77 kg) and 70 inches (5 ft 10 inches or 1.78 m) tall, he is larger than half the U.S. adult male population and smaller than the other half.

Mr. Crash Test Dummy is subjected to two types of simulated crashes: 35-mph frontal impact crash and a 35-mph side impact crash. He is covered in sensors including, motion sensors, load sensors, and accelerometers that measure the effect of the crash on his body.

Motion sensors are located primarily in the dummy’s chest. They measure how much the chest moves as the body reacts to the simulated crash.

Load sensors measure the amount of force applied to different parts of the body during a crash. This helps determine the probability of injury to that part of the body in an Atlanta car crash.

Accelerometers measure acceleration, or the rate at which speed changes, in a particular direction. Separate accelerometers measure up-down acceleration, fore-aft acceleration, and left-right acceleration. The highest measurements of acceleration occur when a body part hits a solid object. Greater acceleration means a greater chance of injury.

But, Mr. Dummy doesn’t just get in the car and start crashing. He must get made up first. Before testing begins, each body part is painted a different color. The colorful make-up job serves an important purpose. After the crash, paint smears show the point of impact where the dummy’s body hit the car.

The crash tests are filmed on a series of cameras which cover every angle of the collision. There’s even a camera pointing straight up underneath the car. After the crash, the video can be slowed down to show exactly how the dummy reacted to the accident.

The data collected from these tests is analyzed by NHTSA experts. The measurements and photographs help the NHTSA determine the chances of injury to each part of the body during an accident. They also allow the NHTSA to determine where safety improvements are needed. The measurements are then used to calculate a score which indicates the vehicle’s safety rating.

As of the 2011 model year, the NHTSA has begun safety testing with a wider range of crash dummies to better simulate male and female drivers of various sizes.

Crash testing doesn’t cover every accident situation. There is the potential for serious injury even in a car with a five-star safety rating. If you are injured in a Georgia car accident, it is important that you take immediate steps to protect your injury claim. To learn how, request a free copy of our guide, 10 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Georgia Wreck Case. To discuss your accident with an Atlanta car accident attorney, contact the Law Offices of Shane Smith at 770-HURT-999.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia