Crash test dummies get heavier as American body weights rise

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It’s come to this: America’s crash-test dummies are getting older and fatter.

In an effort to more accurately reflect the U.S. car-driving population, at least one manufacturer is making crash-test dummies – the pretend people used to test automobile safety features – bigger and older.

“The typical patient today is overweight or obese – they’re the rule rather than the exception,” said Dr. Stewart Wang, director of the University of Michigan International Center for Automotive Medicine, in a statement. “You can’t talk about injuries without talking about the person.”

The new crash-test models include a 273-pound dummy, more than 100 pounds heavier than normal, as well as a prototype based on an overweight 70-year-old woman.

“The condition, size and shape of an individual is hugely important in how severe their injuries are in any given crash,” said Wang, who has studied crash injuries and works with automotive engineers on safety research.

In frontal crashes, for instance, obese drivers tend to “submarine,” or slide under the lap belt, the University of Michigan research found. An obese person’s lower body tends to be loosely restrained because his or her lap belt has far more slack. As a result, obese drivers suffer a much higher rate of more severe lower-extremity injuries.

The new elderly dummy prototype has a body-mass index of 29. Its…

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