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Collision Division: Infrastructure bill includes evaluation of crash testing

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill includes a provision that looks to address the gender disparity in crash safety experts say continues to be a problem despite new technology available.

By: Emily Featherston and Jon Decker

Originally Published: November 8, 2021

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill headed to President Joe Biden’s desk includes more than just modernizing roadways — it also will look at making sure all drivers on those roadways are safe.

Included in the bill is a requirement for the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, to prepare a report on the crash-testing protocols and practices at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within one year of the bill’s passage.

The requirement was part of an amendment added by Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters, and one of a handful of legislative efforts by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to address what experts say is a disparity between male and female drivers behind the wheel.

Every year, NHTSA publishes 5-Star Safety Ratings for new vehicles as part of its New Car Assessment Program.

An investigation by InvestigateTV and the Gray Television Washington News Bureau found that according to data from the University of Virginia, female drivers are 73% more likely to be severely injured, and up to 20% more likely to be killed in a vehicle crash. However, female crash test dummies are not put in the driver’s seat for the tests for the two most common types of crashes in NHTSAs new car program.

Additionally, the investigation found that despite NHTSA funding and commissioning research into more advanced crash test dummies that would better represent all drivers, but especially female drivers, the United States has fallen behind other countries in implementing that technology. The agency is still using dummies based in technology developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“If you’d look back in the early 80s, the standards had been defined to the modern crash test dummy, but they’ve really been fairly stagnant since,” said Humanetics CEO Chris O’Connor during an interview in April for the initial report.

Humanetics is one of the manufacturers of crash test dummies, including the ones currently used by NHTSA as well as the newer models available on the market.

“There have been some advances, but not to the level that would be expected for the amount of technology that’s changed,” O’Connor said.

The required report from the GAO will look at the types of crash test dummies NHTSA uses, where those dummies are placed during tests and how those factors contribute to the disparity industry that experts like O’Connor say exists.

Additionally, the GAO will look at NHTSA’s processes for evaluating and adopting new safety technology.

O’Connor told InvestigateTV during his interview he thinks there is no time to waste.

“We can’t wait for three years or four years to get a change in place,” he said. “There should be movement to get a change in place yesterday.”