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Over the past few years the rate of reduction in United States traffic fatalities has plateaued, at almost 100 deaths a day on America’s highways. The appreciable year-on-year reductions seen in the previous six decades have not materialized in this decade.

In a recent CNN interview, the President & CEO of Humanetics, Christopher J. O’ Connor announced a portfolio of new crash test dummies that represent the growing segment of the population that is statistically more likely to die in an automobile crash. O’Connor spoke about increased injury risk during a car crash for elderly drivers and his corporate plans to develop elderly ATDs.

Humanetics, a premier provider of human simulation crash test dummies, is investing millions of dollars in research and development to help OEMs produce safer vehicles, with systems and restraints designed to cater for the changing demographics and size of drivers and occupants.

Humanetics Innovative Solutions has been making crash test dummies for over 60 years. The original crash test dummies are now advanced biofidelic human-like Anthropomorphic Test Devices (ATD). Humanetics works with automotive OEMs, safety restraint suppliers, government agencies, universities and insurance institutes worldwide to provide sophisticated ATDs for dynamic test evaluations that lead to safer vehicle design.

AI: Given the increasing numbers of elderly and obese drivers and passengers worldwide, Automotive Industries (AI) asked O’Connor what are some of the latest advancements in Humanetics ATDs.

O’Connor: Humanetics is currently building the new THOR (Test device for Human Occupant Restraint) 50th percentile; which is a much more technically advanced biofidelic ATD as compared
to the hybrid crash test dummies original designed in the 1980’s. We are very excited about the THOR 50th and expect to also have a THOR 5th in production within the next 12 months. In addition, Humanetics is working on several new significant products to include ATDs that represent obese and elderly drivers who are more at risk of severe injury if involved in a car crash.

AI: Is there a measurable increase in automotive fatalities due to factors such as age and obesity?

O’Connor: Unfortunately, yes. In fact, obese drivers are up to 78% more likely to die in a car crash than normal-weight drivers, according to a recent study from UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation and Research Education Center (SafeTREC). The center is affiliated with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Studies. This study was published online in the Emergency Medicine Journal. The current Crash Test Dummy only represents this average BMI class of drivers which was statistically accurate in 1980, but not today. Among the obese, the higher the BMI, the more likely a driver is to die in a crash.

Additionally, elderly occupants are statistically more likely than younger occupants to sustain serious injuries or die in low-impact crashes than younger occupants. At crash speeds of only 31 mph, the risk of sustaining a serious injury for elderly occupants increases dramatically. A 50 year old female has a 10% risk of serious injury in a frontal crash and an 80 year old female a 40% risk.

AI: How prevalent is obesity?

O’Connor: In 1980 when the “modern” crash test dummy was designed, the average adult obesity rate in the United States was 15%. Today the adult obesity rate has increased to approximately 40%. The obesity rate is predicted to continue growing. Couple this with the fact that, according to the UC Berkeley study, obese drivers are 78% more likely to die in a car
crash than normal weight drivers, and the alarm bells start ringing. As the leading supplier of crash test dummies, we feel strongly that Humanetics has the obligation to design and manufacture an obese crash test dummy to represent a driver who is at a much higher risk of dying. This allows OEMs and crash safety restraint suppliers to run tests with their products to ultimately save lives.

AI: How did you determine the size of the Obese Crash Test Dummy, and when will it be made available for automotive OEMs and safety restraint suppliers to test their products?

O’Connor: The UC Berkeley report indicated that an obese driver with a BMI between 35 and 39 has a 51% increased risk of death. The United States population in excess of a BMI of 35 is almost 30%. This is a significantly large number of drivers. Humanetics designed the Obese Crash Test Dummy on a 50th percentile male with a BMI of 35; weighing in at 273 pounds and 74 inches tall. As a comparison, the 1980’s designed Hybrid Three 50th percentile dummy is 169 pounds and 69 inches tall, with a BMI of 25. The Obese Dummy was recently tested at the University of Virginia against a cadaver with the same proportions for comparison purposes, with great results.

AI: What is the timing for Humanetics to introduce the Elderly Dummy?

O’Connor: Humanetics is currently developing an Elderly Crash Test Dummy, and plans to collaborate with universities and interested industry groups to expedite the availability of this product. The first Obese Dummy will be made available in early 2015 to automotive OEMs and safety restraint suppliers for evaluation and testing.

AI: How will car makers develop safety systems for older or more obese occupants?

O’Connor: The automotive OEMs and safety restraint suppliers are the experts at designing these types of protective systems. Vehicular safety systems have advanced significantly during the last 20 plus years. However, with such a high percentage of obese drivers more likely to die in a crash, additional advancements are necessary. I could imagine further adaptive safety restraint systems; including automatically adjusting airbags, seat belts and seats that will self-modify according to the size of the occupant for maximum protection. The Obese Crash Test Dummy is a test device to gauge the progress of success against these larger drivers and could be used as part of a future 5 Star Rating.

AI: What is the situation globally?

O’Connor: Approximately 1.24 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, according to the World Health Organization. Ninety-one percent of the world’s automobile fatalities on the roads occur in low and middle-income countries – even though these countries have only half of the world’s vehicles. Humanetics has a strong global commitment to help save lives and reduce these statistics, with over 85% of our ATD products being delivered to customers outside the United States. All vehicle occupants are not made the same size. Thus a standard Hybrid 50th percentile dummy is not adequate for vehicular occupants of all “shapes and sizes”. Children, Obese and Elderly test devices are also necessary to represent the world’s diverse population more realistically and thus address the increased injury and elevated death rates for these special and statistically relevant classes of drivers.

AI: How has last year’s acquisition of your company by Golden Gate Capital impacted Humanetics’ company strategy and future outlook?

O’Connor: Humanetics is a safety company and will always remain a safety company. With today’s ever-changing business marketplace expanding our operations to include the world’s most technologically advanced safety products is something we will continue to do. Our principal goal is to continue to increase our current business by acquiring companies that complement and broaden our existing portfolio by expanding our product lines and emerging into new markets. Through our holding company, Safety Technology Holdings, (STH), we intend to make acquisitions that will not only support the growth of our existing test equipment, sensor and finite element modelling businesses, but also to expand into complementary segments such as software, testing and certification services, life sciences and diagnostics. All potential acquisitions must support our overall mission of improving safety, comfort and protection of people and their environment. Humanetics is committed to our mission of developing products that ultimately save lives!


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