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Gender equality comes to test crash dummies

posted 8 Oct 2012, 09:22 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Oct 2012, 09:22 ]

Swedish researchers have produced a crash test dummy to represent the average female, in an effort to reduce the numbers of women receiving whiplash injuries in road accidents. According to a recent Swedish study, women are twice as likely as men to suffer such injuries when hit from behind, but the standard crash test dummy is almost exclusively based on the average male.

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN (REUTERS) - Anna Carlsson was working as a crash test engineer in the late 1990s when she realised that all the safety experiments she worked on with colleagues involved male dummies. Aware of reports suggesting that women were statistically at double the risk of suffering whiplash injuries, she decided to build and test her own female dummy in an attempt to rectify this.

More than a decade later, working as a researcher at Chalmers University of Technologyin Gothenburg, Carlsson believes the BioRID50F she's created will help car makers tackle what she sees as an important flaw in their testing procedures.

Before creating the dummy, Carlsson tested a series of women and men in a rigged-up car seat being propelled forward at very low speeds. This helped her assess how a woman's body differs in movement when hit from behind. According to the researchers, the majority of whiplash injuries occur at small velocity changes - below 25 kilometres an hour.

After analysing the results Carlsson and her team produced a computational model which they called EvaRID. They then took an average-sized male BioRID crash test dummy and adapted it to female ratios. "What we have done here is, as you can see, to cut off arms and legs. Shortened them and carved out some of the interior to decrease the weight. Then we have pieced her back together. It is still a prototype as you can see... We have also shortened the spine and we have made the torso smaller and lighter. We have peeled off the rubber front of the head to reduce the weight," she explained.

Her BioRID50F prototype was then subjected to eight crash tests and the results compared to those of the BioRID male dummy. The researchers found that when hit from behind, the female crash test dummy demonstrated higher acceleration and quicker motion than the male dummy. Since car seats do not yield backwards to the same extent when a woman is hit, women experience an earlier and more powerful forward rebound.

"What we have done now is to develop a dummy that is the size of a normal size woman which also moves, in a crash situation with the impact coming from behind, like a normal size woman," Carlsson said.

Carlsson says there are many differences between the male and female bodies. She says women have a greater range of motion in the spine and that there is a difference in the size and angles of the male and female vertebra.

"She moves differently because she is shorter and lighter than a man. And we have seen for example that the back of a seat does not flex as much for the woman which means that she will start moving forward quicker and have a more rapid acceleration in that direction," Carlsson said.

She says the researchers at Chalmers also theorise that whiplash could be a shock wave in the spinal canal and that since women have smaller spinal canals they are more vulnerable to whiplash injuries. A 2011 survey by Swedish insurance company Folksam was the latest to suggest that women were twice as likely to suffer whiplash in accidents as men.

The female crash test dummy is still in the prototype stage, partly funded by theEuropean Union (EU) project Adseat.

Once the prototype takes a more permanent form, Carlsson wants car-makers to adapt safety systems that take into account the bodies of both sexes, rather than just those of men. She thinks car seats should be adapted to take into account both the average male and female bodies.

The term whiplash describes a range of neck injuries caused by a sudden distortion, but which are almost impossible to diagnose because they are invisible. Sufferers can endure long-lasting pain and short-term disability. Whiplash injuries are frequent in car accidents and can lead to long-lasting pain and disability, although many car insurance companies complain that false whiplash claims are frequent and have added greatly to drivers' premiums.