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article imageReview: 'Crash Test Dummies — A Smashing History' Special

By Alexander Baron     Sep 2, 2013 in Technology
Although this programme has a specifically UK slant, it will be of interest to anyone who drives and anyone who doesn't. Anywhere.
With the exception of Genene Jones, hopefully. Much of the technology featured in this programme was developed in the United States, which is hardly surprising for reasons that need no explaining here. However, as automobiles are now more or less universal, this will be, or should be, of interest to everyone everywhere, and a fascinating if off-beat tale it is.
Engineer Jem Stansfield presents this programme which is not really about crash test dummies but the quest for crashing safely. The first dummy was no dummy, although arguably only a dummy or an extremely brave man would have done what Colonel John Stapp did.
The son of American missionaries, Stapp was both a military man and a medical doctor who pioneered testing sudden deceleration by using a human guinea pig: himself. Although his work was concerned with military aircraft, it didn't take long for automobile manufacturers to take an interest, which led to the birth of the crash test dummy. Stapp's work had not involved crashing, and clearly human guinea pigs cannot be used for such work.
Tracing the history and evolution of these dummies, presenter Stanfield travels to the USA, and to Sweden to speak to a Volvo safety specialist, who of course converses in flawless English. The first non-human crash test dummy was called Sierra Sam; the current generation of test dummies is incredibly sophisticated; although the basic model has been around for three decades, it has been joined by smaller versions to replicate women and even babies.
There are quite a few things in this programme you probably didn't know, like when a car crashes at any speed the driver and passengers will experience not one but three crashes: the first is the vehicle; the second may well result in his head making contact with the windscreen; the third, which can be the most serious, is when their internal organs make contact with the body. One of those organs is the human brain, which slamming into the skull...best not think about that.
The good news is that thanks to dummies, driving has never been safer, they have helped and are helping to develop airbags, cars that collapse "correctly" when crashing, and car seats that help minimise or avoid non-fatal but extremely painful whiplash injuries.
For those who can receive it, this programme is currently on BBC iplayer, but won't be for much longer.
Not a dysfunctional family  but the latest generation of crash test dummies.
Not a dysfunctional family, but the latest generation of crash test dummies.
Creative Commons
More about crash test dummy, crash test dummies, Road safety, Jem Stansfield, sierra sam
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