Do you know the role Crash Test Dummies play in your safety while riding in a car? (image via google)

Many of us change our diet to lose weight, watch our salt to lower our blood pressure, and take medication to help with cholesterol because we know that heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death for adults in the U.S.  But we rarely think about, let alone change our driving habits to make driving safer.  Yet car accidents, which claim the lives of more than 30,000 Americans each year, are also amongst the leading causes of death.

Fortunately, even though we aren’t thinking about how to be safer drivers, other people are thinking about how to make driving safer and their efforts are making a difference.  These are the people who work in the area of crash test science which uses crash test dummies to learn how car accidents affect the human body so that cars can be designed to provide more protection.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), efforts in this area have helped to decrease the number of fatalities from 23 per 100,000 licensed drivers to 16 during the 15 year period from 1994 to 2009.

So, how does crash test science help make you safer?

The use of crash test dummies in one form or another started early on in the evolution of the car.  Car makers realized that in order to make cars safer, they needed to understand what happened to the occupants of the car when collisions occurred.  In the first half of the 20th century, cadavers and pigs acted as crash test subjects, allowing car makers to see the types of damage caused from things hitting bodies and from bodies impacting other things.    While this was helpful, it didn’t show the other kinds of damage that collisions cause like those resulting from gravitational force and kinetic energy.   It was also impossible to conduct standardized testing.

Then, in 1949, came Sierra Sam, the first real crash test dummy.  Sierra Sam was originally designed to test what happened when a person was ejected using an ejector seat in an aircraft.  From Sam, crash test dummies have developed into very sophisticated pieces of equipment that can cost as much as $400,000.  Crash test dummies allow for standardized tests to be conducted across multiple vehicles and different scenarios.  This enables car makers to learn how to make cars safer and to test changes to ensure changes actually improve safety in the ways they expect.

As long as there are cars being driven by people, there will be accidents.  This means that making crashes more survivable is the key to further decreasing the fatality rate.  Survivability goes beyond keeping people inside the car and keeping the passenger compartment intact, although improvements in these areas have dramatically increased the safety of our cars.  This is where crash test dummies and the data they provide make a real difference.  Gaining a real understanding of the kinetic energy a body is subjected to during a collision enables car designers to design cars in ways to reduce those effects.

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What are you looking for in a new car? (image via Technosailor on flickr)

In 2010, statistics show that more than 700 people lost their lives in automobile accidents on Arizona roads according to ADOT.   There were more than 100,000 accidents that year that also resulted in more than 50,000 reported injuries.  These statistics are the reason that one of the most important things families must look for when shopping for a new car is safety features.  Many people assume that mandatory government safety standards mean that one car is just as safe as another.  However, while there are minimum safety standards required by the government, this does not mean that all cars are created equal.  Manufacturers meet those minimum standards in different ways.  Some meet the minimum and no more.  Others invest in more advanced safety measures.  In order to find the car that meets your safety requirements, you need to know what to look for.  Here are 4 tips to help you shop for a safe car.

1.    Passenger Restraints

It wasn’t that long ago that not every car came with seatbelts, but unlike the cars of the past, today’s cars come with comprehensive passenger safety restraint systems(SRS).  The SRS starts with the seatbelt and also includes air bags, head rests, and even the windshield.  These components all work together to protect drivers and passengers during collisions.  The seatbelt helps keep you in your seat, the air bags help keep you from hitting anything inside the car, the head rest protects your neck from whiplash or other injury, and the windshield, in some cars, helps maintain the structural integrity of the passenger compartment.

2.     Anti-Lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes are crucial to helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle in certain circumstances.  In older cars, slamming on the brakes would often cause the brakes to lock up, sending the car into an uncontrolled skid.  Anti-lock brakes keep that from happening.  However, it is important for all drivers to understand that anti-lock brakes help you maintain control of the car in a skid, but they do not help you stop more quickly.

3.     Weight

Heavier cars are safer, especially in crashes between two vehicles.  Collision damage is all about physics, the transferring of force from one state to another.  In an accident with a large heavy vehicle and a small light vehicle, the heavier car has more force behind it.  This is why it takes longer to stop your car if you have it fully loaded.  Because it has more force, the heavier car wins, pushing the lighter car backwards increasing the gravitational force on the occupants of the smaller car.  This force, all by itself, can cause serious injuries.

4.     Crash Test Rating

When it comes down to it, the primary danger of being in a car only occurs when there is an accident.  This is why it is important to understand the crash test rating of any car you are considering purchasing.   The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the government agency responsible for conducting all crash tests on new cars.  They assess each car on how much protection it offers occupants of the passenger compartment during front impact collisions, side impact collisions, and roll-over accidents.  Using crash test dummies, the NHTSA tests and rates vehicles based on how likely it is that a person in the front seat of the vehicle who is wearing their seatbelt will suffer a serious head or chest injury during a front impact collision or a serious chest injury in a side impact collision.  Rollover testing rates how likely a vehicle is to rollover if involved in a single car accident.  These ratings are provided for all new cars each year at www.safercar.gov.

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