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The History of Crash Test Dummies

Sierra Sam and the family of crash test dummies

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Crash Test Dummies - CRABI

Crash Test Dummies - CRABI

United States Department of Transportation
When Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, the design and manufacture of automobiles became a regulated industry. Shortly thereafter, debate began between the government and some manufacturers about the credibility of the test devices like the crash dummies.

The National Highway Safety Bureau insisted that Alderson's VIP-50 dummy be used to validate restraint systems. They required 30 mile-per-hour head-on, barrier tests into a rigid wall. Opponents claimed the research results obtained from testing with this crash test dummy were not repeatable from a manufacturing standpoint and were not defined in engineering terms. Researchers could not rely on the consistent performance of the test units. Federal courts agreed with these critics. GM did not take part in the legal protest. Instead, GM improved upon the Hybrid I crash test dummy, responding to issues that arose in SAE committee meetings. GM developed drawings that defined the crash test dummy and created calibration tests that would standardize its performance in a controlled laboratory setting. In 1972, GM handed the drawings and calibrations to the dummy manufacturers and the government. The new GM Hybrid II crash test dummy satisfied the court, the government, the manufacturers, and became the standard for frontal crash testing to comply with U.S. automotive regulations for restraint systems. GM's philosophy has always been to share crash test dummy innovation with competitors and earn no profit in the process.

In 1972, while GM was sharing Hybrid II with the industry, experts at GM Research began a ground-breaking effort. Their mission was to develop a crash test dummy that more accurately reflected the biomechanics of the human body while in a vehicle crash. This would be called Hybrid III. Why was this necessary? GM was already conducting tests that far-exceeded government requirements and the standards of other domestic manufacturers. Right from the start, GM developed every one of its crash dummies to respond to a particular need for a test measurement and enhanced safety design. Engineers required a test device that would allow them to take measurements in unique experiments they had developed to improve the safety of GM vehicles. The goal of the Hybrid III research group was to develop a third-generation, human-like crash test dummy whose responses were closer to biomechanical data than the Hybrid II crash test dummy. Cost was not an issue.

Researchers studied the way people sat in vehicles and the relationship of their posture to their eye position. They experimented with and changed the materials to make the dummy, and considered adding internal elements such as a rib cage. The stiffness of materials reflected biomechanical data. Accurate, numerical control machinery was used to manufacture the improved dummy consistently.

In 1973, GM held the first international seminar with the world's leading experts to discuss human-impact response characteristics. Every previous gathering of this kind had focused on injury. But now, GM wanted to investigate the way people responded during crashes. With this insight, GM developed a crash dummy that behaved much more closely to humans. This tool provided more meaningful lab data, enabling design changes that could actually help prevent injury. GM has been a leader in developing testing technologies to help manufacturers make safer cars and trucks. GM also communicated with the SAE committee throughout this development process to compile input from dummy and auto manufacturers alike. Only a year after the Hybrid III research began, GM responded to a government contract with a more refined dummy. In 1973, GM created the GM 502, which borrowed early information the research group had learned. It included some postural improvements, a new head, and better joint characteristics. In 1977, GM made Hybrid III commercially available, including all the new design features GM had researched and developed.

In 1983, GM petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to use Hybrid III as an alternative test device for government compliance. GM also provided the industry with its targets for acceptable dummy performance during safety testing. These targets (Injury Assessment Reference Values) were critical in translating Hybrid III data into safety improvements. Then in 1990, GM asked that the Hybrid III dummy be the only acceptable test device to meet government requirements. A year later, the International Standards Organization (ISO) passed a unanimous resolution acknowledging the superiority of Hybrid III. The Hybrid III is now the standard for international frontal impact testing. In fact, on September 1, 1997, it becomes the only official frontal impact test device for occupant restraint compliance testing to FMVSS208. And Hybrid III has been designated as the official test device for the new European frontal impact regulation schedules to take effect in October 1998.

Over the years, Hybrid III and other dummies have undergone a number of improvements and changes. For example, GM developed a deformable insert that is used routinely in GM development tests to indicate any movement of the lap belt from the pelvis and into the abdomen. Also, the SAE brings together the talents of the car companies, parts suppliers, dummy manufacturers and U.S. government agencies in cooperative efforts to enhance test dummy capability. A recent 1966 SAE project, in conjunction with NHTSA, enhanced the ankle and hip joint. However, dummy manufacturers are very conservative about changing or enhancing standard devices. Generally, an auto manufacturer must first show the need for a specific design evaluation to improve safety. Then, with industry agreement, the new measuring capability can be added. SAE acts as a technical clearinghouse to manage and minimize these alterations.

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