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Closing a gender gap in crash testing

Her work began with pioneering investigations into whiplash from car crashes but now road safety researcher Astrid Linder has her eye on closing another gap in our knowledge of accidents.

Astrid Linder has made headlines around the world for her pioneering female crash dummy and now wants to see collision safety standards equal for all genders.

Earlier this year Linder won the Woman of Worth award from the Women’s World Car of the Year for her work on the development of a female crash dummy.

The Women’s World Car of the Year honours the work of professional women who have distinguished themselves in the automotive world.

Linder’s path began by developing the world’s first crash test dummy for low-speed collisions to assess the protection for soft tissue injuries of the neck, so-called whiplash injuries, when there was no dummy or test for the type of collision that is the most common resulting in disabling injuries.

“It was a big project in the ‘90s. The crash test dummy created was the size of an average man, as that is the model of the occupant that we use as the driver in both frontal and side impact testing,” Linder says.

But the next big insight came when as part of her doctoral studies, Linder found women were at higher risk of sustaining whiplash injuries than men and yet evaluations against injuries were only tested with a model of an average man. Then it became a logical next step for her to design a model that represents that part of the female population.

“Today there is no possibility of assessing the protection of a new car for the entire adult population,” Linder says.

“We cannot today, in testing new cars, assess how well cars also protect the female part of the population. How the body is constructed does not differ between men and women when you look at the big features such as skeletal parts, organs and soft parts except the reproductive organs which are not essential in crash safety. Differences that are important to include in models for evaluating protection against injuries in a low-speed rear-end collision are things like upper body geometry, such as shoulder width and centre of gravity of the torso, which are higher for men than women.”

Linder says specialised crash dummies have been made and tested for children and even pregnant models to evaluate protection of the foetus in crashes, so there was a significant gap in the testing for women.

“What drives me are the injury statistics that provide the basis for what needs to be developed and to make it possible to better identify the innovations that give the entire population the best protection.”

The biggest challenges and setbacks over the years have been finding research funding but the cooperation of the automotive industry over the decades has been instrumental in developing new safety standards.

“Already in 2012, together with Volvo, Chalmers, and partners from Europe, we produced a mathematical crash test dummy model of an average woman so that virtual tests with male and female models could be performed. After this, it was widely believed that it was too difficult and expensive to develop a crash test dummy that represented the female part of the population. We managed to get funding from the EU for the recently completed project where we designed both a mathematical and physical model of both an average woman and man.”

Linder says European regulations for approval tests, UNECE, currently only require for roadworthiness tests to use a model of an average man for their vehicle crash test results.

“The companies follow what needs to be followed, nothing more can be required. To get ahead, cooperation, knowledge and will are needed.

“In terms of how difficult something is, developing a COVID vaccine is incredibly much more difficult than developing a model of the average female for crash testing and the development of the vaccine was successfully done in a short amount of time. A lot has to do with what we decide to do.”

Linder says government roles in changing regulations and how we vote for those governments are some of the key elements that could bring about change.

“My future vision is that we improve road safety together and that by 2030 we can evaluate the protection in the event of a crash for both women and men inclusively.”

Linder is also an assistant professor at Chalmers University, Sweden. Her work focuses on research in crash safety and biomechanics, with a particular focus on the development of dummies to assess risk in the event of an accident.

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