The Evolution of the Crash Test Dummy

Like any modern industry, the field of crash testing has been built on the shoulders of giants. And though early crash test dummies were a far cry from the high-tech ones we have today, they were instrumental in developing the standards of testing that make our cars increasingly safe.

Take a look at a few selections from the history of the crash test dummy to see how they went from humans to mannequins to humanlike mannequins. Here are some of the big names:

Colonel John Paul Stapp — the crash test pioneer

The first crash test dummies may have been the best, most responsive, most lifelike dummies in history — because they were actual people. Colonel Stapp, an Air Force flight surgeon in the 1950s, noticed that more fighter pilots were dying in car crashes than in plane crashes.

So what did he do? He began a crash test study program, of course. To test the efficacy of seat belts, he put dummies into salvage cars and crashed them into wood or concrete barriers (sound familiar?). Humans also volunteered for these tests, withstanding up to 28 Gs (28 times the pull of gravity) or 4,800 pounds of force.

From his findings with real humans and real dummies, Stapp recommended several innovative features in car safety: doors with safety locks (so they wouldn’t fly open in a crash), improved bumper design, and dashboards with energy-absorbing padding.

While his insight was crucial to developing safety tests and procedures for the automotive industry, having human volunteers proved unfeasible, so they switched to the inanimate crash test dummies still in use today.

Sierra Sam — the first dummy crash test dummy

Believe it or not, before crash test dummies were invented, cadavers, chimpanzees, hogs, and other animals were often used in crash tests.

This usage was problematic — for obvious reasons. Thankfully, dummies (aka anthropomorphic test devices) were developed in the late 1940s, and Sierra Sam was the very first one of them.

Like Stapp’s volunteers, Sierra Sam was used by the Air Force, where he had the lucky job of testing ejection seats. Good ole Sam may not have been testing car crashes, but he was certainly a big step in the right direction.

Hybrid I — the best of both worlds

Built by GM in 1971 as a compromise between 2 dummy models that didn’t quite make the grade — one from Alderson Research Laboratories and the other from Sierra Engineering (of Sierra Sam fame) — Hybrid I was the first in a series of modern crash test dummies. It proved to be durable and more capable of producing standardized results, but it still lacked the sophistication of modern dummies and couldn’t completely replicate how real humans are affected in a crash.

Hybrid III — the old-school “smart” dummy

The most popular dummy model currently used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in frontal crashes is the HYBRID III, a direct descendant of Hybrid I. Originally built in the 1970s, the Hybrid III is 5’9” and 173 pounds (about the size of the average adult male).

But there’s nothing average about this dummy. His upper torso has 6 high-strength steel ribs that can simulate human chest deflection (think of it as bones breaking). His lower torso has a rubber lumbar spine that curves just like ours when we sit.

THOR — the new guy

Though Hybrid III is pretty advanced, the NHTSA is always looking to propel crash testing forward. For the past few years, the administration has been working on a sophisticated new model called THOR. (Cool name, right?) This one can better replicate actual human movement and is packed with a whole bevy of sensors to gather detailed information about what happens to our bodies in a crash.

THOR has yet to be named the official NHTSA crash test dummy because it’s still technically in development. But the dummy is increasingly being used in crash tests and is steadily improving one high-tech limb at a time.

Check in next week to learn more about exactly how THOR works and what we can learn from him.

Crash safety

When it comes to buying a car, crash test results aren’t everything. The way a car handles a crash depends a lot on the respective sizes of the vehicles in the collision. Find out how car size affects crash safety.

Related links

How crash tests actually work  

Discover the virtual side of crash testing


New on Esurance Mobile: Change Your Payment Method and Due Dates on the Go

You asked, we answered.

While our mobile app earns its fair share of glowing praise (with ratings of about 4.5 out of 5 for both iPhone® and Android™), there are 2 features we get requests for all the time: the ability to update your payment method and change your payment due dates.

In fact, over 40 percent of the feedback we receive includes one or both.

So … we added them.

Change your payment due date with Esurance Mobile

It’s happened to all of us (right?). You’re cruising toward payday when you realize a grand conjunction of unexpected expenses and an important bill (say, your car insurance bill) are about to put a serious cramp in your finances for a couple days.

With Esurance Mobile, it’s not a problem — even if you’re far from your desk. Just log in to push your payment date back and breathe easy. You can make it a one-time change or update the due date for all future payments. How’s that for convenience?

Update your payment method on the go

There are a number of reasons you might want to change your payment method. Maybe you just got a replacement debit card after your old one expired. Or perhaps you’re replacing a credit card with a new, lower-interest one.

No matter the reason, Esurance Mobile makes it fast and easy to change the way you pay. Just log in, enter your new info, and you’re done. You’ll have the option to use either a debit or credit card or automatic withdrawal from your checking or savings account.

Update or download Esurance Mobile today

Whether you’re an old hand with Esurance Mobile or haven’t yet discovered its ease and convenience, just go to Google Play or the App Store to download today (or just let your phone do the work if you’re updating).

And if you’re not yet convinced how handy Esurance Mobile can be, you can learn a lot more about it here.

What feature would you like to see next?

As you probably know, we’re always working to improve your Esurance Mobile experience. If you have an idea for functionality that would make your life easier, drop us a line at, tell us all about it on Facebook, or just comment below.

Related links

Esurance Mobile has a cupcake button … and anywhere, anytime claim filing with accident and emergency services. You can use it to view pictures of your car’s repairs no matter where you are, and in some states, it counts as proof of insurance.

New App from AT&T Targets Texting and Driving

There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of texting and driving, so we’ve got to give props to a company that’s actually doing something about it.

AT&T recently released an app called DriveMode that makes texting impossible while you’re driving.

How DriveMode works

When enabled, the DriveMode app temporarily limits key features of your mobile device once you hit 25 mph. The app silences incoming calls, texts, and email alerts, thus eliminating the urge to read incoming messages while you drive.

Even better, the app will send a customizable auto-reply that says you’re driving and will respond later.

The designers of the app also realized that you still might need to use some of your phone’s features, so it allows you to access one music app and one navigation app. You can also call 911 at any time.

The AT&T DriveMode app is free for AT&T customers (and only $0.99 for Verizon users).

The dangers of distracted driving

In 2009 — in the U.S. alone — nearly 5,500 people were killed and an estimated 448,000 injured in crashes due to distracted driving.

Texting and driving is particularly dangerous because it causes visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. Though more states are passing laws to ban distracted driving, 27 percent of adults still admit to texting while driving — and those are just the ones willing to confess!

Take the pledge

Cool as it is, the DriveMode app only works if you’re willing to use it. So take the pledge to keep yourself and others safer on the road. Whether you download the app or simply ignore incoming calls and texts, adopt the mantra, “It can wait.”

Download the AT&T DriveMode app.

Related links

Read up on texting and driving dangers
See the latest trends in teen driving — texting is still a major problem

Traffic Patterns, Traffic Jams, and the U.S. Cities with the Worst Congestion

Think your commute is bad?

Commuters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, could certainly give you a run for your money. Daily traffic stretches between 112 miles and 183 miles, which means it takes the average commuter 2 hours to travel 10 miles.

But Brazilians aren’t the only drivers seeing an increase in traffic. In fact, the number of vehicles in the world nearly doubled between 1990 and 2010. Much of this increase is due to growth in developing countries — where traffic is particularly bad due to lagging infrastructures.

Epic traffic jams

In 2010, drivers on a stretch of the Beijing-Tibet highway were stuck in a traffic jam for 13 days. You read that correctly: 13 days. Believe it or not, there were no reports of road rage (and a few savvy villagers made quite the profit by selling food and water at inflated costs).

Another jam recently occurred during China’s “Golden Week” (a 7-day national holiday) when the government removed all expressway tolls, which led to a 13 percent increase in traffic. In a country of over 1.3 billion people, that’s a pretty major jump. With nothing to do but wait, drivers got pretty creative, doing everything from push-ups to playing tennis in the road.

Traffic in the U.S.

Interestingly, as other countries have seen a rise in the number of cars on the road, the U.S. has seen a slight decrease both in car ownership and traffic congestion. With a bum economy and rising gas prices, it’s no surprise that more people are staying off the roads. But even with a slight decline, the U.S. far surpasses other countries in car ownership. In 2010, over 80 percent of the U.S. population owned a car. Compare that with China where just 5 percent of the population owns a car, or Brazil, where the number is just under 16 percent.

The 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic

INRIX®, a leading international provider of traffic information and intelligent driver services, released a report on the 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic. The gridlock may not last 13 days, but INRIX estimates that drivers in these cities spend about 40 hours a year sitting in traffic. Think of what you could do with 40 more hours!

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii
  2. Los Angeles, California
  3. San Francisco, California
  4. New York, New York
  5. Bridgeport, Connecticut
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Seattle, Washington
  8. Austin, Texas
  9. Boston, Massachusetts
  10. Chicago, Illinois

How traffic patterns affect commute times

INRIX also used hundreds of stats to determine general traffic patterns in the U.S.

  • Worst traffic day: Friday
  • Worst morning commute: Tuesday
  • Worst evening commute: Friday
  • Worst hour: Friday 5–6 p.m.
  • Best traffic day: Monday
  • Best morning commute: Friday
  • Best evening commute: Monday
  • Best hour: Friday 6–7 a.m.

Traffic jam must-haves

For most of us, traffic congestion is an unavoidable fact of life. But here are a few traffic jam essentials to help put your downtime to good use.

  • Good tunes — always a must-have
  • Audio books — might as well stimulate the brain a little
  • A Bluetooth — to let people know you’re running late
  • Gas — even idling, you’re gonna burn it
  • Food and water — just make sure they’re easily accessible and car-friendly
  • Exercises — might as well tone up (and stay alert) while you’re sitting
    • Work your arms: put your hands on the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 position and press against the wheel for 5 seconds. Move to another position (like 10 and 2) and repeat.
    • Work your tummy: take a deep inhale. When you exhale, pull your abs toward your spine and hold for 3 to 5 breaths. Repeat until you can repeat no longer.
    • Work your glutes: alternate squeezing your right and left glutes for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • A Zen outlook — traffic jams aren’t fun, but a bad attitude won’t help

Interested in driving conditions for your state? Check out our state pages for legal requirements, coverage options, possible discounts, and other insurance quirks in your neck of the woods.

Related link

Read INRIX’s full traffic report.

How Gaming Tech Could Help Save Lives

Gaming tech helps create amazing 3-D worlds. But what does a $220 scanning device used by video game designers have to do with saving priceless human lives?

In the hands of the Biosciences Group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), a lot, actually.

The problem with current crash testing

At present, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses only 2 dummy models with one variation to model the effects of a crash on the human body.

But think about all the variations of the human body out there: the 5-year-old boy, the 75-year-old grandmother, and, further afield, the armor-clad soldiers manning our military bases. The 3 models currently in use (one female variation and 2 male) can’t possibly hope to accurately reproduce how the titanic stresses and volatile forces of a wreck would affect the countless variations of the human body.

Of course, no one expects the NHTSA to build faithful models of every single body out there. Beyond being impossible, the cost of such a project would be astronomical, considering that each base model costs $45,000, and jumps in value to over $100,000 when you add all the high tech monitors that make the tests truly worthwhile.

So how to overcome these seemingly insurmountable problems? The team at Biosciences Group turned to the gaming world for answers.

Gaming tech could revolutionize crash testing

If you’ve played a modern video game lately, you know that virtual worlds have become incredibly vivid, with detailed characters moving through realistic 3-dimensional environments. To create these intricate representations, game developers employ scanning devices that record depth information.

Using this same technology, bioscientists can create virtual replicas of human beings. These replicas can reproduce unique postures, such as the curving back of an older driver, or the forward lean of the nearsighted motorist, making them much more flexible than their dummy model counterparts.

The final benefit is cost. When you add the $100,000+ price tag on each fully wired dummy to the cost of all the totaled cars, testing with real dummies is extremely expensive. And while virtual testing is by no means cheap, it could save millions over the long haul. Even when you add the $50,000 handheld scanner (which measures 60 locations on a test crash model) and the $120,000 laser scanner (which records data from 500,000 points in 12 seconds), virtual testing is much more cost-effective than testing with dummies.

How virtual crash test results are used

Of course, just because you can virtually test every body type in the world doesn’t mean the problem of variety goes away. After all, car manufacturers aren’t likely to embrace the notion of developing dozens of different interior designs to accommodate the varying types of drivers.

Instead, engineers can use virtual testing results to make the individual interior designs work better for all types of people, not just the few generalized models the NHTSA uses now.

Virtual crash testing doesn’t mean the end of the real thing

Of course, the value of virtual testing can never fully supplant the real deal. But scientists have high hopes that it will serve as a supplement, helping testers widen their field of data and helping vehicle designers better account for the wide array of people who get behind the wheel each day.

And that, hopefully, means safer cars and fewer crash-related injuries and fatalities. Sounds good to us!

Related links
See which luxury cars underperform in crash testing.
Find out which seat is safest in your car.
Learn how a more venerable safety technology is still doing its job over 100 years after its invention.