I’ll give you 5 guesses as to what an advanced anthropomorphic test device is? Go ahead and give it a shot. Could you even come up with one?

Well, me either. But they’re really simple: they’re crash test dummies.

Do you remember those commercials during the 80s and 90s showing dummies flying through car windshields?

Here’s actually a brief compilation of those videos at YouTube:

Anyway, the NHTSA’s still testing with these dummies today, in their ‘Biomechanics & Trauma division, to continue reducing the injuries and deaths in car accidents. Drivers will never be perfect. Some people are always going to drive drunk or high. So it’s kind of a necessary science.

Today, they’re working on THOR 50th. “THOR” stands for “Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint.” THOR 50th represents a 50th percentile male (an “average” male), it’s THORS’ job to go through endless car crashes.

Poor guy has a tough life…

The crash test researchers get to do all the cool, fun stuff. They get to create the test crashes, execute them, and analyze the results.

To you, the public, they release long and boring reports like these.

Even though they’re a total snoozefest to read, these reports contain some important information. And rather than forcing you to torture yourself and read all 12 pages, I’ll give you some of the highlights.

What the NHTSA’s Testing Today

They’re doing tests with other corporations and institutions. For example, with TAKATA the NHTSA tested the ability of adaptive advanced restraint systems (seat belts) to protect a wide range of occupants in current and future vehicles.

50th THOR, 5th THOR, and 95th THOR participated in these tests. The 5th and 95th THORs are what you’d call “outliers.” Just 5% of our population would be like either of these THORs. But they also have the 50th THOR in there, representative of the average male. To date, they’ve found these dummies successfully passed their tests. Now it’s interesting that NHTSA would affiliate with Takata in any way because Takata’s gotten into trouble for many recalls and high-profile lawsuits…so make of that what you will.

NHTSA also tests each dummy to make sure it produces nearly identical results in similar conditions. In their language, they test the “coefficient of variation.” In simple language, this means that two identical tests with the same conditions must come within a certain range of results to consider the test valid for use.

They have 4 ranges:

  • 0-5% = “Excellent”
  • 5-8% = “Good”
  • 8-10% = “Acceptable”
  • 10% + = “Unacceptable”

So if the results for a certain dummy are within 0-5% for two different tests, they’re happy the results are valid. And then they can make conclusions about the safety of drivers, vehicles, and their restraint systems.

In this specific case, NHTSA and Humanetics were able to certify several crash tests because the results were classified as “Excellent” or “Good.”

These Dummies Have Saved Millions of Lives!

In the 1980s, US highways experienced an astounding fatality rate of 15.6 per 100 million miles. Today, fatality accidents have decreased by nearly 15 times, all the way down to 1.09 per 100 million miles in 2013, according to NHTSA data.

We don’t know the exact number of lives they have saved, but it’s significant, and they definitely played a big role in making our roads safer.

Who knows what the future holds? But it’s likely safer than today.