In a move that is probably long overdue, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Uncover Michigan and broadcast sources such as CNN recently reported that Humanetics, a company based in Plymouth, Michigan, is now making and marketing overweight crash test dummies. Humanetics has been selling dummies to car companies for more than fifty years, but their traditional dummy simulates a 163-pound person. The new Humanetics dummy will simulate a 270-pounder. The fattening of America is common knowledge: in the 1970s, less than 15% of American adults were obese; it is more than 30% today. What is less known is that overweight people are 78% more likely to die in a car crash. This is because they often have to, in order to fit into the car, position themselves outside the center of the car seat. When an accident occurs, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones and other safety features deploy far less effectively for bigger people sitting outside the safety-feature sweet spot in the seat’s center.
Maybe the large-size dummies coming from Humanetics could teach car-makers about more than just safety. Consumer Reports and other sources note that heavy people generally buy SUVs and large sedans in preference to small cars because they are uncomfortable inside smaller cars. In addition to Consumer Reports, Edmunds and Cars Direct have also published articles that assess obesity-friendly vehicles. Roughly one-fourth of the American car market consists of small cars that save money and fuel. When gas prices spike again, as they surely will, millions of Americans will once again consider buying small. But regardless of what might happen to fuel prices, a larger, fatter American majority will shun the small cars that shun them. So perhaps car designers can get as smart as the plus-sized dummies at Humanetics and design a small car for large people.
Gratuitous word association bonus: