Until now, the most commonly used dummy design has been based on the average male build and weight. (Credit: National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institute, Flickr)

A team of Swedish engineers has developed the first crash test dummy based on the body of the average woman, according to the BBC.

Since the 1970s, crash test dummies have been used to estimate the effectiveness of seatbelts and safety features in new vehicle designs. Until now, the most commonly used dummy design has been based on the average male build and weight, despite women representing about half of all drivers.

Females are shorter and lighter than males, on average, and they have different muscle strengths. Because of this, women are three times more likely to suffer from whiplash in car accidents, according to US government data. Although whiplash is not usually fatal, it can lead to physical disabilities — some of which can be permanent. 

“To ensure that you identify the seats that have the best protection for both parts of the population, we definitely need to have the part of the population at highest risk represented,” Astrid Linder, the director of traffic safety at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, told the BBC. 

Dr. Linder, who is leading the research in Linköping, and her team of engineers modeled their dummy after the body of the average woman, measuring at roughly 5ft. 3in. and weighing 137lbs. This is compared to the existing dummy sometimes used as a proxy for women that measures at 4ft. 8in. and 106lbs — representing the smallest 5 percent of women by the standards of the mid-1970s.

Even so, the previous female dummy was used very infrequently when testing vehicles.

Tjark Kreuzinger, who specializes in the field for Toyota in Europe, told the BBC that the bias comes from a lack of female leadership when decisions about automobile safety are being made. 

“I would never say that anybody does it intentionally but it’s just the mere fact that it’s typically a male decision — and that’s why we do not have [average] female dummies.”

Dr. Linder, who hopes her research will impact the way vehicles are designed in the future, will still need regulators to enforce the use of the dummy she has developed, as there are currently no legal requirements for car safety tests to be conducted on dummies representing anything other than the average man.