If you watched TV in the 1980s and 1990s, you may remember the slogan: “You could learn a lot from a dummy. Buckle your safety belt.” The famous line was from the “Buckle Up” campaign produced by the Ad Council and the U.S. Department of Transportation in the hope of encouraging seat belt use by showing what happened to belt-less dummies Vince and Larry in an auto accident.
The USDOT estimated that nearly 30,000 lives were saved between 1983 and 1991 thanks to the increase in seat belt usage spurred by the campaign.
And while the two famous crash test dummies no longer spread their safety message on TV, dummies are still helping to keep drivers safe. Today, the smartest group of dummies you’ll meet are part of the Dummy Calibration Laboratory at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and reduction of vehicular accidents. Here, researchers use crash test dummies of all shapes and sizes — ranging from dummies representing a 6-month-old child to one larger than 95 percent of the U.S. population — to measure how a crash impacts various body types.
You may not realize it, but a dummy is much more than just a big doll. According to the IIHS, the average crash test dummy is equipped with 20 to 40 complex sensors that measure a variety of stats, from the dummy’s acceleration and deceleration (due to the dramatic speed changes of a crash, for example) to the movement of the human rib cage caused by a side-impact accident.
Watch this video from the IIHS for a glimpse into the life of crash test dummies, and find out more about how their work helps to make you safer on the road: