How Cars Keep Americans Safe | CNBC Marathon

How Cars Keep Americans Safe | CNBC Marathon

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Car manufacturers really weren't interested in talking a lot about safety. If we talk about safety, then we have to acknowledge that cars might not be safe. We're not testing for a woman. We are 17% to 19% more likely to die in the same accident as a man. We need to test for these different variable populations. Apparently the market is asking for some kind of assistance with driving, but how do we want to guide the industry to provide that in a way that is safe? When it comes to buying a car, safety was once an afterthought, but it now has become a major selling point.

Carmakers advertise their safety ratings from groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumer Reports. And automakers are growing ever more focused on technologies that aim to prevent crashes from happening in the first place. General Motors in recent years committed itself to a goal of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. Automated driver assistance systems, which can include features geared directly toward safety and those meant more for convenience, are expected to comprise a roughly $67 billion market by 2025.

The market for automatic emergency braking alone, which stops a car automatically, could be worth as much as $20 billion by 2024. These new technologies have the potential to save countless lives and make driving a lot easier and less stressful. But automation also raises new risks. Features can confuse or distract, or alternatively, drivers may become overly reliant on them. The urge to make vehicles safe goes back to the earliest days of automobiles in America.

The first seatbelt patent, for example, was filed by Edward J. Claghorn of New York City in 1885. The first statewide traffic laws were passed in Connecticut in 1901. Drivers in that state were limited to speeds of 12 miles per hour in the city and 15 miles per hour in the country. The three way stoplight was introduced in 1930. The technology that makes up air bags was developed starting in the early 1950s.

Almost as soon as cars began filling roads in early 20th century America, they were getting into crashes. Deaths of motorists and pedestrians skyrocketed from 6600 in 1915 to 21900 in 1925. By the 1920s, automakers were changing the designs of their cars to correct flaws that might cause collisions or worsen the effects of them.

For example, they started switching over to shatter resistant windshields. As early as the 1930s, automakers began advertising safety features on their new vehicles. Some carmakers began focusing on safety and developed reputations as innovators.

Swedish car company Volvo made history in 1959 when engineer Nils Bohlin invented the three point seatbelt. Volvo essentially gave the design away for free, allowing for its widespread adoption, which persists to this day. Through much of the early to mid-20th century, safety was not one of the top features sought after when purchasing a car. In the seventies, there was this notion among the auto industry that safety didn't sell, right, that consumers weren't really interested in this car is safer than that car, what they were interested in is this car looks cooler than that car, and this car is faster than that car. That began to change. Activists such as Ralph Nader began drawing public attention to safety issues in cars, particularly with his book Unsafe at Any Speed and his testimony before U.S.

Congress. In the late 1960s, the federal government created a raft of new agencies and tasked them with setting safety standards, investigating crashes and a range of other activities related to driving and transportation. These include the Department of Transportation, the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Joan Claybrook was one of the first people to head in NHTSA and was and still is an advocate of car safety technology. Then in 1977, when Jimmy Carter got elected, I was asked to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So I'd had a good ten years of experience by that time and more than most anybody else in America at my level.

And so I did that for four years, very controversial. I issued a lot of standards, including the airbag rule, and started working on side impact protection and made the auto industry recall tens of millions of cars. They hated me for it. They nicknamed me the Dragon Lady.

In 1968, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard made seatbelts required equipment on all cars sold in the U.S. In 1984, New York became the first state to pass a law requiring at least some occupants to wear a seatbelt. States that enacted such seatbelt usage laws usually saw usage rates spike. As late as 1994, seatbelt usage was around 58%.

By 2019, that had risen to 91%. These laws have at times aroused opposition. Opponents say they give government too much power over citizens and give police too much power to stop people. Safety advocates point out that despite all the safety innovations that have crept

into the car over time, the simple seatbelt still remains one of the most effective ways of staying alive in a crash. Though just 10% of vehicle occupants remain unbelted, the unbelted are responsible for nearly half of all vehicle crash deaths. Safety equipment on a car can be divided into active and passive safety features.

Passive safety features are typically things that protect from the effects of a collision: seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones. Active safety systems are typically things that are meant to prevent a collision in the first place. This often refers to technologies like automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and blind spot monitoring. David Zuby conducts vehicle safety research at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, a group funded by insurance companies that tests cars for their ability to withstand and avoid crashes. I came up with sort of like four qualities of a car that make it safe. Those are: anything that helps a driver avoid a crash, the things that protect a driver or passenger in a crash, the overall usability of the vehicle and how the vehicle interacts with people or things outside of it.

And so when we talk about harm that a vehicle does to another vehicle, we're talking about something that we refer to as crash compatibility or crash incompatibility. The easiest example to understand is that when a really big vehicle crashes into a really small vehicle, the really small vehicle loses out in that crash. And then there's crashes with vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists, people riding e-scooters and that kind of a thing. The first layer of safety considerations any automaker has to worry about come from the U.S. government through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA performs several tasks. First, it creates the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. These are the basic standards every vehicle in the U.S. must adhere to. There are federal safety standards for safety equipment such as airbags and seatbelts, but also for all sorts of parts on a car: windshield glass, brakes, interior lighting and so on. NHTSA also has the power beyond that, though, to recall any car for anything that

presents an unreasonable risk to safety. In addition to creating the federal rules around safety, NHTSA also tests and rates the safety of vehicles through its new car assessment program, and it engages in a range of other activities. Some relate to safety, like promoting seatbelt use, and others do not, such as setting and enforcing fuel economy standards and anti theft regulation.

Its New Car Assessment Program runs vehicles through a battery of tests, including crash tests. A star rating system is used to identify cars that stand out as exceptionally resistant to the effects of crashes. The more stars the vehicle gets, the lower the likelihood of serious injury in a crash.

The NCAP program, like so many things related to safety, met with opposition from the industry. We had pass or fail beside each make and model of car by year and name of car. And I knew the auto industry would go crazy when they realized what we were doing, and they did.

There was also some political opposition. When the Reagan administration came in, they did try and kill it. The whole crash testing program. The NCAP program was the first of its kind in the world and inspired the creation of similar programs in other countries that in some cases go by the NCAP moniker.

Euro NCAP for Europe and Japan NCAP, for example. There are also non-governmental groups like IHS and Consumer Reports, which conduct their own testing or other research on vehicles and equipment and publish safety rankings and recommendations on the ones that perform best. Our approach to this is we understand what the regulations are doing. What are the gaps in what the regulation is requiring of automakers? And let's see if we can get the automakers to fill some of those gaps by publishing information on which cars are doing a better job of filling those gaps than others. These picks have no direct influence over whether vehicles can be legally sold or recalled in the U.S., but they appear to be meaningful enough to some consumers that automakers who receive plaudits from groups like these frequently advertise them.

Many non-governmental groups also have advocacy arms that push for stricter safety guidelines, standards for emerging technology and the adoption of new safety features. Consumer Reports headed an initiative to standardize names for new automated driver assistance features so consumers are clear about what they are getting when they shop for adaptive cruise control or lane keep assist. Other partners on that consortium are the Automobile Association of America, J.D. Power and the National Safety Council. Groups such as the Society of Automotive Engineers, now known as SAE, devised technical standards to define and classify new automotive technologies or new concepts. SAE is responsible for the j3016 standard, which outlines six levels of vehicle automation and is frequently cited in discussions around self-driving cars and driver assistance tech.

On this scale, Level Zero refers to cars equipped only with features that warn or momentarily assist the driver wile Level Five automation refers to a vehicle that can drive itself under any condition. Out of all this come the guidelines automakers use to steer product development and what consumers use to steer one of the biggest single purchases they are faced with in life. Driving is a far safer activity than it was several decades ago. The rate of car crash deaths per 100,000 people in 2019 was about half of what it was four decades before. Safety advocates, watchdogs and even some automakers still say there is more that can be done to address safety and further reduce, perhaps even eliminate, crashes and collisions.

One example is distracted driving. With readily available devices like smartphones or even large, complex and dazzling screens embedded in the dashboard, safety advocates say driving while distracted is a growing area of concern. A great deal of attention has gone into active safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and pedestrian detection.

In 2016, NHTSA and IIHS brokered a commitment by 20 automakers to make automatic emergency braking standard equipment on new vehicles by September 2022. By mid-December 2021, at least 12 automakers had met the standard. Pedestrian detection systems engage brakes automatically when they sense a person walking close to the car.

Pedestrian detection, I think, is kind of one of the most important features right now, because not only do we have cars, you want to be protected in a crash, you want to avoid a crash, but also potentially mitigate the effect of a crash on other roadway users, too. So it's kind of a big package now of the safety of a vehicle these days. One group, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety wants at least some of these new technologies to be standard on all cars. There's some newer innovations like the AEB, the automatic emergency braking, which is so revolutionary. If we've got automatic emergency braking because it helps with distracted drivers,

drunk drivers, sleepy drivers, inattentive drivers, and it can be applied to the whole panoply of vehicles and it stops crashes and it's like the airbag, but it's for the before the crash. It's just revolutionary. It really is. But new technologies also introduce new questions. Active safety features such as forward collision warning or blind spot monitoring are often lumped in with other automated features such as Lane Keep Assist, which helps keep a car within a lane or adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the speed of a car to keep a certain distance from the car in front of it. These are not thought of strictly as safety features. The term used to collectively describe a lot of these automated features is ADAS, which can stand for Automated or Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

They can they can introduce new safety concerns. They can also potentially increase safety. We just don't have the data to show it. Such as the adaptive cruise control.

People love it. It also has shown to increase the headway of a vehicle. Having a larger headway is also good for safety, but it also performs at a high enough level that it may make driving more boring. And so one less thing for the driver to do while driving is just going to likely be replaced by the driver finding something else to do. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems of varying levels of capability are already available in more than 92% of the vehicles on the road.

Right now, a lot of these features are add ons, which can cost as little as $500 or up to $1,500. Though features such as the aforementioned automatic emergency braking are becoming standard equipment. The sheer variety of these systems, how they are named, how features are bundled, even how they perform on different vehicles, can all be sources of confusion for consumers. They even have something as simple as a compact sedan versus a full size SUV.

If it has literally the exact same hardware, even the size of the vehicle changes the height of the camera looking forward at the road and things like that. So not only are there lots of different systems on all of the different brands, but even within the same manufacturer, the performance can definitely vary. Consumer Reports tests a brand's systems across a range of vehicles to control for some of this.

Unmet consumer expectations can defeat the purpose of stocking such features on a car in the first place. We find sometimes that when consumers purchase a vehicle with these systems, that they end up shutting them off because they either end up being annoying or they don't match their expectations for what they thought they were getting. Safety researchers and regulators are trying to determine whether new safety features lull drivers or passengers into a false sense of security, whether consumers have inaccurate ideas about what automated driving systems can and cannot do and whether consumers mistakenly believe their cars can drive themselves when they really cannot.

Things like Tesla's autopilot that raise a lot of concern about do drivers really understand how to use these systems safely or will they be lulled into some state of complacency that the system is better than it really is? But Tesla is not the only one creating that kind of a system. Apparently, the market is asking for some kind of assistance with driving. But how do we want to guide the industry to provide that in a way that is safe, that doesn't lead to drivers over-relying? There have also been some reports of more aggressive driving on America's roads during the COVID-19 pandemic, though insiders say more research is needed on how extensive that is and what its causes and effects are. The leading contender is that basically driver behavior is kind of eroding, that maybe the lack of traffic and congestion during the pandemic led people to believe they could get away with driving a little bit more crazily. Driving is probably safer than it has ever been, but it still requires skill and caution.

Airbags are the safety feature you hope you will never have to see. In the 30 years from 1987 to 2017, airbags saved 50,457 lives, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium. Today, few would question their presence in cars, but airbags, which are required in all cars sold in America, are there because of a decades long argument between safety advocates, who believed the devices could save countless lives, and skeptics who worried that potential costs and dangers might outweigh benefits. Their story illustrates how new safety technology and safety regulations can inspire controversy and even bitter fighting . The invention of the air bag is attributed to a few different people. In the 1950s, there was a Navy man named John Hetrick who came up with this idea of an air pillow, an air cushion, and he actually had that patented. Another inventor was a man named Allen Breed. Initially focused on technology for military clients, Breed used his knowledge of sensors and controlled explosions to invent the world's first airbag system in 1968.

Breed founded the company Key Safety Systems, which was acquired by another safety equipment company, Ningbo Joyson, in 2016. Getting air bags into cars was a challenge. Car manufacturers really weren't interested in talking a lot about safety. If we talk about safety, then we have to acknowledge that cars might not be safe.

And that was a very difficult situation for them. Manufacturers did experiment with them. Ford tested passenger side airbags on some Mercury Montereys in 1971 and offered them as an option on the same car in 1972. GM fitted about 1000 1973 Chevrolet Impalas with experimental airbags and allowed fleet customers, such as insurance companies, to test them. When the vehicle research center here opened in the early 1990s, our inaugural crash test was a 1973 Chevy Impala with that special airbag.

Despite the fact that the cars were 20 years old at the time of the test with dead batteries and other nonfunctioning parts, the airbags deployed perfectly. And so we proved that more than 20 years later that airbags still function properly and provided additional protection for occupants in that vehicle. GM offered airbags as a $180 to $300 option on some vehicles from 1974 through 1976 . The first GM production car with a driver's side airbag sold as an option was the 1974 Oldsmobile Toronado. Despite these early experiments, there was a lot of resistance to putting airbags in cars. NHTSA was created in 1970 and in that same year issued a rule to make airbags mandatory in all new cars. Joan Claybrook, a safety advocate who was working at NHTSA around that time and who later

headed the agency, said the rule met with a lot of opposition. The final rule was finally issued in the fall of 1970, and the auto industry went crazy. Ford and Chrysler chief executive Lee Iacocca was a prominent opponent of them, saying so at least as late as his 1984 autobiography. And Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford, that's when they worked for Henry Ford, came to see President Nixon . Hissed and moaned about the airbag and rear fuel tank protection and so on. Cost too much, the Japanese were taking over the industry. This is in 1970 when there were virtually no Japanese cars on the market.

And so Nixon said, Okay, kill the airbag. That was the start of what Claybrook calls the long and tortuous history of the airbag in America. For years, rules and legislation went back and forth, often with safety advocates and insurance companies on one side and automakers and free market advocates on the other. At one point, Nixon's Secretary of Transportation, William Coleman, suggested instead of a rule mandating bags, a public demonstration of airbag technology. And there's this humongous fight and Will Coleman, he fought them tooth and nail and wouldn't let them go on vacation over Christmas until they agreed. I mean, it was really, it was a hysterical battle.

And eventually they agreed because they wanted to go on vacation. Cost was a concern, but critics also alleged the airbag was being forced on consumers and that it was an insufficiently tested technology that posed its own risks. Child deaths drew a lot of attention. From 1990 to 2008, frontal airbags caused more than 290 deaths in low speed crashes.

Most of them were in cars made before 1998, most involved passengers who were not wearing seatbelts or were improperly restrained, and most victims were children. Around this time, government agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board said the problem was due largely to parents who were placing children in front seats instead of car seats in the rear. By 2001, child deaths related to airbags were dropping precipitously, and it was attributed to changes in parent behavior.

Safety advocates and regulators said airbags still saved many more lives than they claimed. Eventually, advocates such as Claybrook prevailed and since 1998, frontal airbags have been required on all passenger cars and required on all SUVs and vans since 1999. Since the 2014 model year, almost all new passenger cars come with side airbags.

One NHTSA report said front airbags reduce driver fatalities in frontal crashes by 29% and fatalities of front seat passengers aged 13 and older by 32%. Another indicated side airbags that protect the head reduce a car driver's risk of death in driver's side crashes by 37% and an SUV driver's risk by 52%. Faulty airbags caused the biggest recall in automotive history. The Takata airbag scandal, which blew out into the open in 2015, led to the recall of about 67 million airbags. The U.S. Department of Transportation fined the airbag maker $200 million in 2015, the largest

civil penalty in NHTSA's history. The U.S. Department of Justice also levied a penalty of $1 billion in 2017 and charged three executives with wire fraud and conspiracy. Takata went bankrupt and was later bought by Ningbo Joyson and merged with key safety systems, the very company founded by airbag pioneer Allen Breed. Airbags do not work the way they are sometimes depicted in films. When you see a TV show and an airbag deploys and it's inflated forever and someone's trying to fight their way out of it, that's not how airbags work.

In reality, they're very quick acting. They tend to deploy in 10 to 50 milliseconds of the crash happening, in the blink of an eye. They're also then deflated within about a 10th of a second. They've done their job during the phase of the crash where you're most likely to be injured.

At the moment of a crash, a sensor on a car sends a signal to the airbag's computer system telling it to inflate the airbag. The system ignites some chemicals and they produce a harmless gas that inflates the bag in 1/20 of a second. It needs to be extremely quick.

It only takes about 50 milliseconds for a driver's body to collide with the steering wheel. There are front airbags, side and curtain airbags, airbags that deploy near the rear window to protect passengers from impacts in that direction and even airbags for the knees. It is not uncommon at all for cars to have nine or ten airbags in them today, most of them not even required by law. Airbags usually deploy in moderate to severe crashes. If an airbag does not deploy during a crash, it may just be that the crash was not severe enough to activate the accelerometers that engage the system.

Some cars come with sensors in the seats that can detect the size of a person sitting in the seat. If the system thinks the seat is holding a child or a person of small stature, it might shut off the airbags. Even if a car is equipped with these shut off sensors, NHTSA still recommends seating a child under 13 in the rear seat.

Some automakers have found that further improvements can be made to airbags. Honda co-developed an airbag with top airbag maker AutoLeap that provides extra protection to passengers, especially passengers in crashes where a car is struck at an angle. Current airbags are great and head on collisions, but Honda said its research found that a lot of passengers still suffer brain injuries in crashes, even with airbags, when a car is hit at an angle. The reason for this is the force from the impact at an angle, say even slightly on the side of the car, can cause an occupant's head to rotate, often violently. This can cause brain tissue damage. The automaker found that actually a slight majority, 56% of these crashes, occur at some kind of an angle.

It's called diffuse axonal injury, where the axons in the brain tissue actually shear and separate, causing anything from coma, speech loss, all of these types of traumatic injuries from diffuse axonal injury. How diffuse axonal injury actually occurs is the tissue of your brain wanting to rotate or move relative to your skull. It's a very, very fast phenomenon that occurs. And again, this was studied heavily through the biomechanics community.

They've turned that into an engineering equation where we look at head rotational velocities and we can kind of predict these brain injury metrics. Conventional airbags tend to have one chamber that fills with air. The new Honda design has three with a piece of mesh cloth that holds them in place. When the airbag deploys, the mesh sail panel, as it is called, provides a first layer of cushioning for the passenger's face and also draws the outer wings of the airbag inward toward the passenger's head. The effect is like that of a baseball mitt.

The three chambers essentially enfold the occupants head, shielding it from dangers from multiple directions. The airbag was even nicknamed the Catcher's Mitt. The Catcher's Mitt is designed to kind of first gently engage you with that airbag, with that sail panel, and then the outboard chambers kind of help cradle the sides of your head and kind of keep you engaged to that center chamber to help manage the overall crash energy. And that's really what's unique about this design is it's got three chambers versus one that really control the occupants rotation of the head. Honda jointly holds the patent with AutoLeave, and the patent is available for other automakers to use. Right now, the two Honda vehicles that use this design are the Acura MDX SUV and the Acura

TLX Sedan. A separate Honda team in Japan worked on a design to also tackle the problem of head rotations and brain injuries and crashes, and came up with designs that are now included on both the driver and passenger sides of Honda Civic vehicles. Honda has a target of zero crash related deaths in its cars by 2050. Korean automaker Hyundai unveiled an airbag concept called the Hyundai Hug.

The bag is deployed from the passenger seat and is made of air filled chambers and tethers that draw the bag around the body of the passenger. The idea is to hug the passenger in place and protect them from a collision in any direction. The design is specifically intended for cars with seating arrangements that may be different from the common forward facing seats. The automaker has positioned the Hyundai hug as a bag specifically suited to the age of autonomous vehicles. While vehicle-related deaths have plummeted in large part due to the adoption of passive safety technologies, such as airbags, automakers are now setting their sights on a world with zero fatalities and serious injuries.

This is THOR, the latest and greatest crash test dummy. It is built almost entirely by hand and loaded with data-harvesting sensors. Governments, automakers and others will pay up to $1 million for just one of these, only to put it into a car and smash it over and over again.

The data they collect will provide insights that save lives and limbs. The latest generation dummy is far more sophisticated than earlier versions. Its design is more true-to-life or biofidelic. It behaves a lot more like a real human in a crash. On the inside, it is stocked with a far larger number of sensors than previous models. It also has an advanced data storage system.

It is also meant to address a long-standing problem. Historically, dummies have been built to approximate the body of an average American male. So women make up 51% of the population. We are 51% of the drivers, but nothing in this car safety is really geared towards us. So none of our injuries are being accounted for.

We are 17% to 19% more likely to die in the same accident as a man and 73% more likely to be injured. And that's because we're not testing for a woman. So we have to move towards this to make sure that we aren't putting women in danger. Even the male crash test dummy has become less accurate to life as people have grown heavier. Vehicle safety rating groups around the world, Europe, China, Japan, have already adopted the latest generation of crash test dummies. So have many automakers. But the U.S. government has not yet made the switch.

Some in the automotive world are reluctant to embrace a design they say is not ready yet. We are here at Humanetics outside Detroit, Michigan, and this company is the largest maker of crash test dummies in the world. Humanetics controls about 90% to 95% of the crash test dummy market.

On the outside, they're fairly normal. Six foot, 190 pound adult males. The latest generation of dummies is the result of decades of innovation. Like seatbelts, crash test dummies were a concept the automotive industry borrowed from aviation. Around 1950, an inventor named Samuel Alderson created the first known dummy, originally as a device for testing ejection seats in air and spacecraft. Dummies are also known as anthropomorphic test devices or ATDs.

Alderson founded the company that later became Humanetics. But beginnings in automotive were modest until about the 1970s, when automakers tested for safety at all, they typically did so with human cadavers or animals, dead or alive. Automaker General Motors created many of the basic dummy designs to which today's dummies can be traced.

General Motors in the early seventies thought there was better ways to develop crash test dummies, and they initiated work on the development of the Hybrid III dummy, starting off with the 50th percentile male dummy, which is kind of a standard in the workhorse ATD that the industry has been using for quite some time. The idea of building dummies for women took hold in the early 1980s. The Hybrid III was developed in the 1980s and it is based on the male 50th percentile dummy of the same time and is basically a scaled down version of the male. Her biofidelity is not based off of female's biofidelity.

Starting in about the late 1990s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began working on a new generation of dummies. These were meant to be more true-to-life and capable of capturing a lot more data. The development of THOR took place literally over 30 some years, which is really embarrassing to say that it takes so long to get an advanced piece of equipment.

Different teams of scientists, engineers and regulators in Europe and the United States worked on designs, trying to find one that would meet the different standards on different continents. So a combined one did come out, and the most recent THOR was actually initially funded by NHTSA, where Humanetics developed the first three prototypes for NHTSA and provided that to them, that was now 12, 13 years ago. And then there's a lot of advancements that happen on the continuous work, and that's the contribution that Humanetics continues to do. Humanetics is privately owned and is headquartered in Farmington Hills, Michigan, within a short drive of the largest American automakers. The company's largest factory is 2 hours away in Huron, Ohio.

It's all hand work. If you notice a round of our production, it's not an automated assembly line. It's more of a lot of careful craftsmanship. You have to do parts almost on a one by one basis. The company ships about 300 complete dummies every year.

There are also a lot of spare parts used to repair worn down or broken dummies in the field. The dummies are meant to simulate the anatomy of the human body while still being durable enough to withstand hundreds or even thousands of crashes. Though some parts need fixing or replacing over time, a dummy is engineered to last decades.

So this is an example of a molded head skin. It's solid vinyl. We mold it here. It hasn't been trimmed up and finished, but what it does is it actually goes over an aluminum skull. The dummy has a hard skull and it has a flesh that goes around the skull to try to mimic a

little bit the head of an actual person. Dummies have to be tested extensively. Every dummy needs to be made to exact specifications and each one has to be identical to every other. The dummy needs to behave exactly as expected. We raise these pendulums and we let them swing and they swing into the thorax of the dummy. So we're checking the rib cage.

We're checking to see how much deflection we get from that impact. Too much deflection, the rib cage is too soft. Too little deflection, the rib cage is too stiff. So it has to fall into that just right corridor to be able to be certified and used in a crash test.

Each one of these dummies is loaded with sensors that are made at Humanetics headquarters. Newer dummy models have many more sensors than older ones, a big factor that accounts for the million dollar price tag. She has much more technology in her than the other dummy.

So the Hybrid III only has about 12 sensors altogether. The THOR-5F has 138 sensors fully loaded. So she has about five just in the front of her face to measure impact of an air bag.

And she's got a bunch of others in her head as well. She's got tilting meters, accelerometers, so she has much more going on. Now we have instead of a single way to track thorax injury, which is a common injury in a vehicle, we have more of a three and a four dimensional view that happens within that thorax. Newer dummies are also equipped with pricey onboard systems that collect data from those sensors. Older versions have large cords coming out of them, which can affect how the dummy moves in a crash. This is a big part of what makes them so much more expensive than their predecessors.

Newer dummies are also built both to look more like real people and move like them. The rib cage there, actually, when you look at it and you compare side by side, they're actually shaped more human-like. That crash test dummy actually moves more human-like. The older dummy basically pivots just forward and back.

This will actually rotate and turn. This advanced engineering is also responsible for their higher cost. Humanetics makes about 40 different types of dummies. There are adult sized dummies. So this one right here is a Hybrid III 50th. So he's one of our oldest generations from the seventies.

Still used in many government basic regulations. So it's a frontal impact, dummy only. This one is called a EuroSID. He's a 50 percentile male side impact dummy.

He's only used in side impacts. Next to him is actually a THOR 50th, so he's also a 50th percentile, but he's our next generation of dummy. And our 5th female dummy. She's our small Hybrid III 5th. And there are child sizes. We have a number of different kinds of dummies, different sizes.

They come in from newborns all the way to ten year old in the child range. A lot of those are used for different out of position tests and car seat manufacturers. Child seat manufacturers use them to test their products before they put them on the market. The Hybrid III male dummy is made to approximate the body measurements of a male at the 50th percentile in height and weight. That is basically a man in the middle of the U.S.

population. That dummy is five feet nine inches tall and 171 pounds. The female version is called the Hybrid III 5F. It is supposed to represent a female in the fifth percentile of height and weight, among the smallest people occupying a vehicle. But the five foot tall, 110 pound 5F is really just a scaled down version of the male, with male rather than female proportions. Hybrid III dummies are what NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety use in their frontal crash tests. But these dummies are no longer representative of average sized people in the United States.

We're seeing that the current injuries being affected for drivers has varied over time, and a lot of that variation comes with the fact that people have changed in size and not just getting taller, but also getting larger in different areas. The female THOR dummy is designed to more closely mimic the anatomy and weight distribution of a true female. So she's actually designed based on a woman's biofidelity versus the scaled down men's rib cage. So this is an actual woman's rib cage, and she actually has the built-in chest plate.

The dummy is loaded with sensors in areas where women are more likely to be injured. So she has sensors basically everywhere. She has several in her head, multiple in her torso, in her abdomen, all through her legs. So in her leg, women tend to suffer from lower leg injuries more than men do, so we have several in her leg, including tibia, we have rotational in her ankle, we also have an Achilles sensor as well.

Prices for a Humanetics dummy range from about $100,000 for a very stripped down older model to about $1 million for the latest THOR model fully loaded. There are now hundreds of THOR dummies around the world. The dummy has not yet been officially adopted by NHTSA.

That means automakers are not required to use the THOR dummy when running their own crash tests. NHTSA itself doesn't yet use it in its New Car Assessment Program. The NCAP program publicly rates cars based on how well they perform on safety tests, including crash tests. Essentially, you need a rule maker, be it in Europe or the U.S. or in Japan or China, to set the rules, to set the guidelines that say we need to test for these different variable populations.

The NCAP program has inspired similar programs around the world, and many of them already use at least one of the THOR models. The THOR 50th is already part of the European NCAP since 2020. It's now part of the China NCAP, it's part of the Japan NCAP. And we're hoping that NHTSA will adopt it here. They have said for the last five years they will be adopting it and we expect it to be adopted in the near future. The dummies and Humanetics's other products, such as virtual crash testing software, are also sold to companies up and down the automotive supply chain.

Automakers, for example, run extensive crash tests to validate their products. Any given development in a given project that we're working on, we can run up to 70, 80 full scale crash tests. We do full range of front crash, side crash, rear crash, component level like whiplash testing. Honda has about 50 dummies in its fleet right now.

They range from child size to full size, dummies built for front crash tests, side impact crash tests and so on. Honda has invested in the latest generation of dummies, including the THOR dummy. My background's biomedical engineering, so I love that the whole aspect of these dummies is becoming more human-like, more biofidelic. The new dummy actually presented a challenge for the automaker. The sensors captured much more information than Honda had the tools to process.

The information that these new dummies give us with all of the sensors and all of the rotational sensors and the different deflection areas that the old dummies didn't have, again, it's very valuable for us because we can get into the details. Honda says more work needs to be done to make sure the dummies are durable, reliable and give repeatable results. We've done a lot of work on studying the repeatability, the reliability, the durability of these dummies. And from a manufacturing standpoint, that's huge because we're down in the

millimeters of design changes sometimes. So we want to make sure that that tool, that dummy, is always repeatable. And no matter what we do, anything we change, we know it's because of a countermeasure and not because of some instability that the dummy is giving us.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is a nonprofit organization funded by the insurance industry. It runs an array of tests on new vehicles to assess their road worthiness and safety for occupants. The group's top safety picks are widely publicized and advertised by automakers. IIHS uses Humanetics dummies in its tests, but has been reluctant to invest in the THOR dummy.

One of the things we have found when we've used it is it brakes too often. We don't always get the measures we want. And what a recent study shows, we conducted a wide range of crashes and compared it to some real world data, is that what we were looking for was a dummy that gives us a better predictor of what the current dummies weren't doing very well, which is predicting the injuries are still left in the real world that we like to address, which are chest injuries.

Our analysis of that dummy showed it didn't do a better job of predicting those types of injuries. And so we have decided we are not going to move forward with that new latest and greatest dummy. The cost is also daunting. One of the problems with this dummy is not only is it very expensive, but it is expensive to maintain. And when things break on it, you can't always just turn it around and repair it as quickly as the old dummy. IIHS uses other means to account for variations in human size.

We also assess how that structure holds up around the occupant. In our fall crash test, we use a dummy that represents a mid-size male. Well, you're going to want to make sure that that occupant compartment stays in shape and doesn't collapse around, say, a very large male or a smaller occupant that is sitting further forward. And so we try to put all of this together to try to come up with an assessment that benefits a wide range of real world occupants.

Humanetics said it works closely with its customers to address durability issues and is improving the THOR line. Well, I think there's always going to be some questions when you're changing tools. It's a process of when do we decide to improve the technology that we have? If we try and wait for the perfect tool time goes on and we're losing the opportunity to provide some additional benefit for our customers. It's a healthy discussion to understand where there may be some gaps or some areas of improvement, but we've been working, researchers have been working on the THOR dummy series for quite a long time. We believe we're ready.

In its most recent update in early March, NHTSA said it plans to begin using the THOR-50M dummy in its NCAP tests. It, however, made no mention of the latest female dummy. NHTSA told CNBC that the bipartisan infrastructure law will allow the agency to accelerate its research to complete the development and documentation of the THOR fifth percentile female crash test dummy. The biggest challenge we have, quite frankly, is the slow timing that it takes to get a new product into the marketplace. We can change technology in a car from one year to the other. We now have hundreds of computers on board a vehicle, and yet the test device for which we're measuring those advanced technologies is actually 45 years old, and that's really concerning.

So we have to think of a faster way that governments can act, because if the government is not going to mandate it, then it's not going to happen.

2022-11-01 08:53

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