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Obese crash test dummy introduced

Zlati Meyer Detroit Free Press

DETROIT – Americans are getting fatter – and so are the crash test dummies used to test the cars they drive.

Plymouth-based Humanetics has introduced a new obese dummy to reflect Americans’ growing size. The 273-pound dummy – officially called an anthropomorphic test device – is 106 pounds heavier than the traditional model, reflecting public health trends.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 34.9 percent of American adults – an estimated 78.6 million people – are obese and Humanetics president and CEO Chris O’Connor explained that how they fit in the seat, how their different centers of gravity could translate into car crash injuries, and how seat belts and air bags work on them, are different enough to warrant a new dummy body type.

“The average person has changed dramatically,” he said. “It was important to put out a piece of test equipment that auto companies and safety suppliers can use to decide what the best way is to restrain an obese person, since so many obese people are driving. It’s not just weight. It’s the question of girth at the center area.”

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has no plans to incorporate the obese dummy into its testing program.

“It’s not clear what we would learn that’s different by using a heavy crash test dummy. When the structure (of the vehicle) holds up, that helps protect people of all shapes and sizes,” IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said.

A University of California at Berkeley study published in 2013 found that drivers with a body mass index of 30 to 34.9 were 21 percent more likely to die in a crash versus those with a BMI of 35 to 39.9, who were 51 percent more likely, and those with a BMI of 40 or above, who were 81 percent more likely. Researchers also concluded that obese women had a greater chance of dying in car crashes than obese men.

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