DOT assembles family of crash test dummies

The next generation of crash test dummies is coming of age. Within weeks, officials say, the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget will sign off on a new regime of crash testing that will bring diversity of size to the sacrificial dummies.

Until now, all crash dummies have resembled 50th-percentile men, weighing 165 to 170 pounds and standing, or rather sitting, at 5 feet 10 inches tall. But that was part of the reason so many children and smallish women died after being struck by deployed air bags a few years ago, when the crash cushions first came into common use. The spate of highly publicized deaths prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop a set of smaller crash dummies.

The new high-tech dummies, already in automakers' hands, embody a 5th-percentile woman-weighing 102 pounds and standing 5 feet 1 or 2 inches-as well as a 6-year-old child, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. They, along with the old man, will have to "survive" automakers' crash tests, once the new regulations go into effect.

The new dummies aren't cheap. Rolf H. Eppinger, a NHTSA researcher, says they cost $60,000 to $80,000 apiece, counting their sophisticated instrumentation. It hasn't been easy to stuff so many sensors into smaller dummies. But they'll earn their keep, if their painstakingly measured agonies save human lives.

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