How Crash-Test Dummies and Biomechanics Improve Vehicle Safety

Crash Test Dummies
Posted: March 26, 2024

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Crash Test Dummies are the peaceful faces of a violent science: impact biomechanics. If you’ve ever survived a motor vehicle accident or walked away from one merely shaken up, you probably have biomechanics to thank—and the six rubber, steel, and vinyl mannequins used by the NHTSA in the name of biomechanics to test how bodies move during, and are affected by, a crash. The NHTSA dummies–a whole family of them ranging from Hybrid III, a 5-foot-9, 171-pound male, to CRABI, a 22-pound, 12-month-old infant–get bashed around and banged up in horrible collisions to help researchers make cars safer for real people.  

Understanding biomechanics for crash injuries  

The lessons Crash Test Dummies have taught researchers about the violent dynamics of a motor vehicle crash have led to new and improved automotive safety features that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. As stated in a 1980s public-service announcement, you can learn a lot from a dummy.  

Biomechanics has been defined as the “study of the action of external and internal forces on the living body, especially on the skeletal system.” Biomechanics research is based on the “principles of mechanics and an understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of the human system,” according to the National Academy of Engineering.   

Among the lessons learned from impact biomechanics is that the severity of a crash is linked not only to velocity of the collision but also to the shape and rigidity of the objects involved. Extending the duration of impact reduces injury risk.  

According to research, injury can be caused by   

  • Crushing (elastic injury) 

Example: chest compression that fractures a rib 

  • Striking (viscous injury) 

Example: a blow to the chest that ruptures the heart 

  • Acceleration (inertial injury) 

Example: the skull moves faster than the brain, causing the latter to strike the former 

Common injuries  

One vehicle safety feature that biomechanics and testing with crash test dummies has improved is the airbag. Crash-test dummy testing also has led to better seatbelts. 

According to government statistics, seat belt use saved nearly 330,000 lives between 1960 and 2012. Someone who wears a seatbelt in a motor vehicle reduces his or her odds of fatal injury by 50 percent.  

Airbags, like seatbelts, have saved many lives. That’s the goal of impact biomechanics: protecting car occupants from serious injury in a crash 

According to one article, the four basic areas of research of impact biomechanics are:  

  • Injury mechanisms: Understanding how an injury, such as whiplash, occurs so that we can find a way to prevent it or reduce its severity.   
  • Mechanical response: Crash dummies are created by safety engineers to see what parts of the body are likely to be injured in a crash.   
  • Human tolerance: Elderly people, women, and children may be less protected by certain safety precautions because crash dummies used during testing procedures may not accurately represent human tolerance for injury.  
  • Simulation of human impact: Crash dummies are used to test safety systems in vehicles.  

Combining biomechanics with medical observation 

In addition to impact biomechanics, car-crash researchers use real-life medical cases to better understand the effect of traffic accidents on those involved. Teams of experienced trauma surgeons and emergency physicians, trained crash investigators, and experts in impact biomechanics and mechanical engineering work together in NHTSA’s Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN).  

According to its website, the mission of CIREN is to improve the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of motor vehicle crash injuries to reduce deaths, disabilities, and human and economic costs.   


Hurt in a Car? Call William Mattar.  

If safety advances made possible by biomechanics and other research cannot save you from injury in a car crash caused by someone else’s wrongdoing, you may be entitled to compensation. We have more than two decades of experience helping car crash victims throughout the state of New York. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, contact the attorneys at William Mattar, P.C., today by calling 844-noswap444-4444 or completing a free initial consultation form. 

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